Kathleen Hellen

sacre cur A spotted growl, I used to answer to their whistle, chasedthe ball they threw so I could run in circles. Fetchedthe things they feared would get away from them. Fetcheddread. They blamed themselves. Warned away from mongrels,in-breds, they said they only wanted my companionship, thenfollowed with a story to their friends about “Bull” or “Bailey,”“Ben.” The one that can’t be kenneled. Brutes! I chewedthe bald spots on my legs (absent mother?). Gnawedat white bones on the altar to prevent the deadfrom escaping (absent father?). Howledthrough alleys lit with gnats, snappedat puny flies to which I was attracted,mangy cats, the dividend of rats—howledacross the tracks to scratch at slag that loomsbeside the wastes around, as bleak and desolate,full of quarrel—Enough! Of tribe, of pack.Of night as long as black and chainedto entrances. Enough! Of man’s best friend.I sit in my trick of forgetfulness. Enough!Of why wolves talk! I’ve already said enough. shoot the clock The protests in the park the West’s Tienanmen. The North’s Montgomery. The toppling of the monuments like Stalin’s. The black man’s face I recognize, though I don’t know him. A sign of times. I step outside the flat screen, outside the dialectic of the channels. I guessed when I was ten there used to be Columbus. There used to be the war—until there wasn’t. I miss the peace signs bandaging the armbands. Flower power planted in the long snout of a gun. The bug before they cheated on emissions. I miss a world that once believed in better angels. The mass in Latin. Luigi’s with its mural of ionic columns, its statue of a Roman goddess painted on the back wall near the toilets. I miss Sinatra, his voice a pandering to simulacra. I miss the steroids in the spit, the cocaine in Peoria, the Teflon in the birth defects, the cancers. I miss the Arctic. The map highlighted red not catastrophic. The advent of the bees, nectaring the bush, lush, the slender stems like supplicants, the monarch in the trumpets. The soft collapse of clusters. still life The foreground like a needle that I thread. The gray like lead.I strike in violet a cabinet of prescriptions. I paint the fires in my headbut every red’s a little cutting. The background for the center of a blackhole that I render. The madness that I canvas. The madness I confessin little pots of glossed acrylic. My father said I’d marry badly—which I did—said I’d quit, the etymology of which is “not successful,” meaning:I’d blossom in the vapors of condensed potatoes. A private distillation.There’s one big bowl to wash the brushes, it gets muddy. Kathleen Hellen’s honors include the Thomas Merton poetry prize, prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review, and her prize-winning collection Umberto’s Night (Washington Writers’ Publishing House 2012). Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Hellen’s latest poetry collection is The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin (Saddle Road Press 2018).