Denise Duhamel

Howl

I saw the best minds of my generation undermined, doctors hungry for truth, 

               dragging themselves through inane press conferences, 

angels with hip replacements and fashionable scarves holding up graphs, making  

               predictions, scientific dynamos trying to break through, to give us light, 

who, in spite of hollow men, sat up Zooming in the virtual darkness of cold hard facts 

               floating across cable news hosts’ desks, contemplating death rates, 

who bared their brains to the WHO and saw Monday Night riots, angels staggering in 

               Lafayette Square, flash bangs illuminating, 

who passed by unimaginative reporters with radiant cool eyes pleading with Americans  

               not to drink bleach,  

who cowered in green rooms, undercut, retrieving their speeches from waste baskets,  

               forced to listen to the terrible thumps of the Chosen One,  

who got their words twisted, regurgitated, while urging the closing of hotels and theme 

               parks, Paradise Church, shopping malls with their mannequins’ torsos glowing 

               night after night  

with dreams of capitalism, now a waking nightmare of alcohol-wipes, shuddering 

               strippers, but no spinning on poles, no dollars, Canadian or American, all the world of 

               highways with motionless cars, 

Peter Pans playing solitaire on their iPads, plots and more plots dug up in cemeteries,  

               drunken, safer-at-home moms and dads banging pans from windows and  

               rooftops in honor of first responders who were busy at work, their kids home from      

               school, storefronts boarded up, blinking traffic lights, ambulances but not much else, sun

               and moon and tree vibrations in the spring dusks of Minneapolis and Louisville and

               Buffalo, until the protests began, the best minds of the next generation chanting, 

               demanding sanity from an administration clearly out of its mind.


Votive Poem

I take out the votive candles, bought before phones had flashlights, thinking they'd be a backup in case of a hurricane. Backup upon backup was always my way to prepare.  


I light a red one and put my mother’s picture near it—a makeshift altar. After her accident, I said novenas. My heart would wake me in the middle of the night like a crying baby—thump thump thump. 


The sulfur puff brings me back to St. Joseph’s, where I’d put a quarter in a metal box and light a candle for my father after he’d passed.  My mother's in a nursing home, unable to attend Mass in her wheelchair. No more communion. No more Sisters of Mercy with their tambourines. No more visiting priests. 


I light the candle each morning, snuff it out each night, careful the fire doesn’t catch my sleeve.


Always/Never

In couple’s therapy, Dr. Karen taught us to never say “always,” to never say “never” as in, You never listen to me… or Why do I always have to take out the trash?  


I wanted all the power and for a while I had it.  


Why did you marry him? Dr. Karen asked. Because he adored me, I said, and then I realized that said nothing about him. 


Why did you marry her? Dr. Karen asked. He said it was the right time in his life to get married.  He’d finished grad school and marriage seemed like the next step.


Had he never adored me? I always thought he had.


During my first solo therapy session in college, I had a therapist who refused to talk except to say, And how does that make you feel? Halfway through, I bolted, then vomited outside. I thought the therapist would run after me, but he didn’t.  


Soon afterwards, I slept with a man who slept not only with me, but also with three other women over the course of a year. 


And soon after that, I married another man who would always worship only me.


Or so I had thought. 


Balloon

He said It’s easy to write pretty, it’s hard to write wise. I took it as a jab, that I wasn’t writing anything smart. I didn’t grow up with a brother so I had no idea how to spar with a man. My first published poem was about a balloon. I typed it into the shape of a balloon with the final line running vertically like its string. My mother was a nurse whose job it was to help. My father was a baker who made jelly donuts—his job was to feed.  


I wrote my monster poems, little Frankensteins made with bits of my life and theirs. Was it even a job? I felt foolish, not wise, when I occasionally I wrote a pretty word like bougainvillea. 


Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021). Her other titles include Scald; Blowout; Ka-Ching!; Two and Two; Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems; The Star-Spangled Banner; and Kinky. She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.  Her interview with Michael Hettich appeared in Hole-in-the-Head no. 3.

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