Your freshly minted kindergartner says,
the fire bell rings and we line-up, and because
you know drills are in place to be ready,
you also know what came before.
Like that turn-of-the-century school,
all heavy-wooden rafters and clapboard,
the children climbing the walls
as flames shook their red fists at the sky:
the worst tragedy of its kind, they said.
Welcome to the age of preparedness.
So you pick your boy up from his school
of concrete, ever on lockdown behind
chain-link where the mothers cling,
unable to pass through. Welcome
to a new school made by guns trained
on little kids. In the morning students
gather in the center of a blacktop slab
and sit in groups, then they file into
the barracks. A few small signs —
a tetherball and four-square markings —
tell you this not a prison, though you know
the edifice is about what is kept out
instead of in. Welcome to the new way
we learn. Still, as you detangle your fingers
from the fence, your boy lost in the fray,
you can’t help think how easy it would be
to prop a rifle in the hard crux of a steel
diamond and aim at children squirming
in their uniforms. How you cannot ever
really be safe from random madness.
Welcome to the way you think now.
An Oral History of Bodie, California
The mind of the body is optimistic,
even as the pioneer shovels dirt
into the hole, the never ceasing gust
gritting her mouth and eyes, her stillborn
tamped down in the hills pocked
with mines once ribboned in gold.
Even as she thinks to lay down and die,
every morning she rises and wipes
the night’s windswept-in silt from the stove,
puts on the kettle, and goes on. In autumn
the draft blasts down the chimney
and scatters sparks across the floorboards,
a blackbird sings if you want to call it song,
and her doctor makes another house call,
but she endures beyond the mill’s machinery
grinding to a halt, the pastor leaving
on the only coach, and winter’s short supply
of firewood long enough to birth,
or so he was told, the last boy born
in that moribund town.
Babies in the News
Today’s paper reports a woman rolled
her ten-month-old onto the subway platform,
then left on the northbound train.
She would have struggled down
those stairs from the street. I’ve asked
strangers to take the foot-end of my son’s
stroller as we hefted his weight
down into the darkness, those arterial
transit ways of the metropolis, never meant
for mothers with babies in prams. How she
must have thought to be done with
her daughter’s hungry mouth, those
ever-grasping hands, no doubt
dimpled at the knuckles, still full-cheeked
in her infancy. And just a news report
ago, a father left his son in the oven
of his car, the Atlanta sun baking, baking,
baking. So we mourn and move on
to the next abandonment. And in other news,
I bled again this month, the ticking slowed
to a near stop, time dripping into the bucket
of my own infertility, no more babies for me,
so this news is personal, this news that breaks
hearts, this news again about who has,
has not, or God forbid, didn’t want.
About the poet:
Sonia Greenfield is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer who was born in Peekskill, New York, and now calls Los Angeles home where she lives with her husband, son, and feral dog. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of publications including The Massachusetts Review, The Antioch Review, Rattle, and the 2010 Best American Poetry, and her chapbook, Circus Gravitas, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her latest pieces of fiction can be found in PANK online, and her latest essays can be found on Role Reboot. She teaches writing at USC.