“Don’t you flinch when you see a low-flying plane?”
The speaker’s topic is resilience, but she works in
that since 9-11 we all have PTSD,
which doesn’t sound all that resilient to me.
In my research paper class, one of my students
wants to write about gun control. He’s against it.
Whenever I try to push him gently in the direction
of the opposing argument, he asks me,
Do you really feel the police can protect you?
He asks it again and again, until finally,
feeling beleaguered if only by him, I say,
I feel pretty safe. He’s a Marine, a veteran
of the War in Iraq, wants to be a high school teacher
and will in fact be a fine one, handsome
and smart and with that chip on his shoulder
all Marines seem to have. He looks around the classroom
where the other students are bent over their work
and I don’t know what image he’s conjured,
but there’s the most astounded expression in his eyes.
I guess I feel pretty safe too, he says,
except he says it as if he is falling.
The Law of Grammar
Having violated the law
of grammar she begins to fall
with her first fragment, grips hard
at the syntactical ledge but
finds it not strong enough to hold, plunges
into her paragraph unconcluded,
loosely constructed as a shopping list,
a chip on her should, defiantly
instead of definitely,
parallel spell-checked into peril.
What Flood Does
Flood overturns the order
of pond and stream, insists
on the ardor of rushing water,
of tree limbs and mud, the ordure
of carcasses. Flood
doesn’t recognize fences,
turns out the field’s pockets,
scours mint and nettle
from creekbanks. Cause
and recourse, no respecter
of persons, flood pulls down the saplings
and great maples together,
Flood loves a bridge,
loves to caress with its tongue
those high, amorous thighs.
Rescued from a warehouse,
the desk anchors
one corner of my study,
dark altar of books
and framed pictures, candles,
a map. Before it was mine,
this desk must have been loved
by some brittle soul,
someone hard to love,
craving quiet more than husband
or children, waking each morning
in the dark to write.
Here’s the mark
where she rested a cigarette,
ash searing the finish
while she worked the meter
of a villanelle.
Here her thumbnail
teased the grain,
Should I rhyme? Where
is she now? White-haired,
living in a nursing home?
It is early in the morning. She shuffles
a bright corridor,
humming a nocturne.
As the desk, too, hums
under my breath.
She cracked the window to let in the world
and a great tree offered its branch
blistering the green wall of her room
where desk and bookshelf and lamp
stood sacrosanct. Here,
said the tree, this branch
is a ladder. Transform
your life. Put out your eyes.
See all things bright, restored, whole.
Possess all that you long for.
She pushed the branch out,
closed the window. Hands sticky
with resin, redolent of winter fir,
she turned to the blistered wall.
She sang with the trapped wind.
Bethany Reid earned her MFA and PhD at the University of Washington, and teaches American Literature and Creative Nonfiction at Everett Community College. She lives with her husband and their three daughters in Edmonds, Washington. Her second book of poetry, Sparrow, won the 2012 Kenneth and Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize, selected by Dorianne Laux, and will be published in October of 2012.