FISTFUL OF FEATHERS
Sometimes, I see a man standing
with his back to me, and I read
youth in the slant of his spine,
the sag of his jeans, his protective
hoodie. I see them everywhere,
and I have to restrain myself
from becoming the teen girl
I used to be, the one that ached
to cradle a man like that, the one
who thought she could polish away
the varnish of brooding
with her naked body. Lately,
I’ve taken a young man
to my bed, not even old
enough to drink, a man
whose teenage years
still matter, who still thinks about
the kind of toxic dreams that cloud
youth. I let him play
at taking me like a man,
even though sometimes I want
to tell him that his heart,
this one that he thinks weighs
so much, is nothing
but a fistful of feathers,
and the sooner he pitches
it to the wind, the better—
because it’s going to take wing
and every delusion that seemed to matter
will finally seem small. No,
I’m never going to say that,
because sometimes I listen
to his big dreams and small pains
and feel like I’m a girl again,
listening to my boyfriend unravel
his briar patch heart.
It cut me: I always thought that love
was endurance. Last night,
my young lover asked me
if I could ever love him.
I said no. I did not say
I have loved every version
of him I have ever seen,
that I feel these young men
haunting peripheries wherever
I go, like shadows dragging
at women’s feet, as if each woman
is a little light that can
make their darkness disappear.
About the Writer
Anne Champion is from Kalamazoo, MI and is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, The Pinch, PANK, Redivider, Thrush Poetry Journal, New South and elsewhere. She was a recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s Prize,a recipient of the Barbara Deming Memorial Grant, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a St. Botolph Emerging Writer’s Grant nominee. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. She currently teaches writing and literature at Wheelock College in Boston, MA.
PHONE CALL TO MOM
I’ve never had guns pointed
at me, mom, never
had teenage boys catcall me with an assault rifle
hanging as casually as my handbag,
never been groped by a man I couldn’t tell off
because he’s armed, and his youth
is a strange sort of power I don’t recognize.
How does that make you feel, mom?
The guns? The guns pointed at the body
you bore? I’m thinking about the way
you used to raise your hands
at my body, the same incredulous
resentment I felt at the threat of it,
and how I’d cover my behind with my hands to ease
the sting. Then you’d whip them with a belt.
I learned early that bodies belong to the ones that take them.
I’m thinking about the boys now, mom.
The teen soldiers and the other ones. You ask
if I’m okay, if I’m safe with those people.
Yes, mom, yes. The Palestinians welcome
me like family and I sleep on their floors,
drink their tea, smoke their hookah.
The women tell me I’m beautiful and unveil
for me, and we laugh. We laugh
and I thought it would be impossible to laugh
here. You were wrong about them;
you were wrong about me.
I’m thinking about the boys again,
mom. All those boys. The Jews. The ones
they shot and buried. I’m thinking
about if they were thinking of their moms.
I’m thinking about their moms.
I’m thinking about the Palestinian one too.
The one they made drink gasoline
and set on fire. They have pictures
of his charred body, stomach exploded,
pink intestines tangled in a field.
I’m thinking about how he must have
felt. If he wanted his mom like I do
now. You begin to cry.
I’ve never heard you cry for these boys
and it makes me cry, because
now I know how much you love me,
how you don’t want me to hurt anymore.
Mom, this is hurting me: that boy
they beat, with the red marks
around his neck and the swollen eye, the American
Palestinian. They broke his jaw,
I think. I don’t know. I saw him on TV
and it seemed that everything
was broken. You say, It’s not right, what they’re doing
to the boys. How can they do this?
I know that this is a sort of apology,
and I know that I have to believe in forgiveness now.
The boys. So many boys. The soldiers. The martyrs.
What will become of all these boys?
Who can make sense of a youth like this?
Mom? I want
to come home. I want to forget
what people are capable of.
Let’s forget, mom, what we did to each other before.
Mom, don’t forget
to say I love you. I’ll be home
soon, Mom. I love you.
You hang up first.
I’ll wait here with the boys.
Upon my re-entry to America—
the flavored iced espressos,
running water from faucets
instead of rainwater gathered
on rooftops, the news:
the kidnapped boys, the raids,
the bombings in Gaza. Rows and rows
of identical homes beckoned
like shining perfect teeth in a sinister smile.
I couldn’t explain what it was like: stories
falling from my mouth like puzzles
I couldn’t make whole. At home,
pillows made of feathers and a mattress
made of foam, and yet the world,
disrupting sleep with hatred, the cocktail
of fear and rifles, the paranoia
of constant surveillance by invisible eyes,
the way a tongue can flog
and cause a thousand deaths.
One thing I miss: the Arabic coffee
in the morning, its potent, decadent scent,
as faithful as a spine.
Three Jews kidnapped, one Palestinian
burned alive. One soldier plucked
from the street and knifed,
two six-year-old girls run over
by a settler’s car. Here, air conditioning,
pets, bookshelves, a sky
that never rains death on my head.
One Palestinian car careening into a crowd
of Jews, an orchard of torched
olive trees and more bombs.
And more bombs.
No, I miss more than one thing:
mountainside views, the constant
panorama of awe, the bright colored
hijabs in patterns I could never trace.
One eye for one eye. The price
tag policy, revenge killings—they will fight
and they will fight and they will die.
Pop music whines from speakers at a club
and everyone dances themselves deaf.
I want to live and cry out until
my voice is gone. I want to live
and dig deep into the earth
to unbury the dead. I want
to link arms in the afterlife,
in a place where we don’t know
about the darkness among us that added
up to nothing, among bodies
that amounted to nothing
in that time of fog where we lived together
in the hour farthest from mercy.