Where it says Huang Xiang
repeat the word incarceration
Where it says freedom
read cut off your index finger,
the one that sorts the pages
looking for the truth.
Where it says poetry
read crimes against the state.
Where it says father,
read shot in front of you.
Where it says education,
Where it says choice
rub the word, America
until it kisses your skin
AFTER LEAVING HER THREE YOUNG CHILDREN AT THE CENTRAL LIBRARY, VIRGINIA BEACH
Roszina Mack, 20, is charged with felony child neglect. She left them in the non-fiction
section. She left them under the self-help books where the small realities of truth
are alphabetized. They were playing quietly, cited the reference librarian when she
discovered them at closing time. Three small dark heads bent beneath the Chicken
By then Roszina was a hundred miles away driving her heart to Hampton where she had
friends who could help. She needed time to grieve, time to think silently, the way you do
when your life’s been dissected. She’d called a shelter, but there was no room at the inn.
She’d called foster care. Her recorded calls, unanswered.
Meantime the local media leap frogged. The children appeared at a televised news
conference. Though small and inexperienced, they were rushed for prime time: ABC’s
Good Morning America. The broadcast alerted relatives. A grandmother in Kentucky
recognized their sweet oval faces. Their father in Manassos, VA gasped. He hadn’t
grasped his girlfriend’s realities: confused after the break up, a devoted mother but three
children under 2 1/2, no job, no family, no life line. She was sinking; she didn’t want to
take her children down with her.
Detective Dennis Brown lowered the charges to a misdemeanor: contributing to child
neglect. Leaving children at the library did not constitute extreme threat to their life, he
announced. It’s not like she left them at the garbage dump! He smiled into the silver
camera. The gap in the center of his big buck teeth widened. We liked to avoid the
Susan Smith Syndrome.
PLENTY OF PLATITUDES
The woman in the crimson Broncho is clapping.
Maybe she’s just won the lottery?
Keeping time to a favorite tune?
Or she’s having a road orgasm: Yes … Yes … Yes …
as her male partner keeps his left hand
immovably on the wheel.
Perhaps it’s a simple happiness. This periwinkle
November sky with only a fist of clouds.
The maples smeared in turmeric. Sun, warm as August.
On this eleventh day we should do more than clap, rejoice
remember; we must listen intently to the bayonet, mustard
gas, agent orange, foot-soldier stories.
Yesterday at the blood donor clinic,
when I passed the cookies to a silvered man,
he balanced the plate with three fingers.
My daughter gasped.
What happened to your other fingers?
He took a rippled shortbread. I left them in France.
My silence is another cliché.
And when the clichés fit we wear them
like our own small wounds or wars
with enemies that attack our doors daily
camouflaged in fatigues: job stress, mortgages,
infidelity, booze, aging.
Maybe the lady in the red jeep just won her toughest conflict.
She probably deserves a ribbon. A blue one, the color of sapphires.
The color of forget-me-nots.
Gail Ghai‘s poetry has appeared in Descant, JAMA, Poet Works, and Shenandoah. She is the author of three chapbooks of poetry and an art/writing poster entitled, “Painted Words."