Two Poems by Natalie Shapero

Half-staff

Long enough I have lived in this city—when the flag
sits at half-staff, strangers ask me why, and ask
in vain. I only know the major deaths. I’m best with wars
of expansion. On losses beyond that, I have little
to add, except to make clear I trust and do not envy
the low clerk charged with every up and down,
assessing each departure for depth of grief,
duration and ubiquity of grief—the year provides us just
so many days, and the sun can’t set for every
fallen soul. We’d have no use for the tops of flagpoles,
giving them over to hatchlings or high ads,
with the only full-staff flag the one no human hands
can reach to lower, the flag on the moon. And for what?
A flag is not a grave. It does not offer to be spoken
through. It is no place for private ministrations,
to kneel and smooth my dress down and intone

I hate this city without you. I hate the law of club
and fang, the frank intaglio of beam and glass. The heat
in my apartment hisses and bangs like something caged.
I launder my clothes and leave them to rot for days
in the shared machine. I should retrieve them now,
but I would rather catch hell than return to those rooms,
to the poor light, posted routes of escape from fire,
and inveterate screams of the neighbor couple 

trying for a child, don’t bother coming by, let’s go to your place—

 

Small Animals

Tracking their shit in the kitchen, I know
what to think [be calm—they’re not as scared of me

as I am of myself]. Certainly one, at the least,
was once a person, transformed as a penance

into something dull. I’ve plunged through that hell
as well, I must imagine—how else
to explain the form I’ve been forced into,
a hobble divorced from its body and given a name?

Your mom’s so fat, she’s on both sides of the family,
schoolkids lob at each other, and come to blows.

Good for them. I never save anyone’s honor.

My mom played Mina in Dracula and was bent
over the slavic footboard [I didn’t defend her],
and after the run, the director would idle his hatchback
under our window and sit there honking [I didn’t
defend her
], and soon after that he died.

We helped to clean his shelf in the theater kitchen,
and the desk drawer where he kept his sugar counter.

The actors gathered around it, sticking
and sticking their fingers [normal, normal].

***

Natalie Shapero is the author of No Object (Saturnalia Books, 2013) and a forthcoming collection from Copper Canyon Press. Her writing has appeared in The BelieverThe New Republic, PoetryThe Progressive, and elsewhere, and she is an editor at the Kenyon Review. In 2012-2014, she was a Kenyon Review fellow.

Photo credit: earl53, morguefile.com

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