James Allen Hall
The father does not knock on the locked door
gently, as if loving a small hurt thing.
The father does not say please over and over,
until his voice becomes unraw with the not-said.
The mother inside the room
does not hold a gun to her chest.
The mother did not make the father
into what stands knocking: a safety
the mother clicks on and off.
She has not just ended an affair
with a brutal, brutal man.
The mother’s heart is not broken.
The children are not asleep in their rooms.
They will never know how close
the mother comes to the trigger,
they will not grow up
to take the father’s place.
The father is the mask, the terrible delay.
My Mother's Love
My mother feeds the multitudes of abandoned cats
that live in the field behind our office. Every sundown
she untangles fur, feline lineages. She names each one.
And though they are legion, she does not forget.
She administers heartworm medicine to one hundred
feral cats. She cradles them. Imagine her
frenzy, then, the day the bulldozers come,
a sudden god-congress in the air.
The cats hunker in their homes in the ground.
The bulldozers begin their awful roll. My mother,
at field’s edge, waves her arms, a decoy.
She stands in front of the men and their stomachs,
big rollers of flesh. She does not move, she shouts
until their faces dampen with her spit. She hears the earth
fill with mewling. She digs, she saves thirty-two cats that day,
then takes them home, bathes them, speaks to them calmly
even as they claw up and down her arms. I'm her
witness, I'm buried in this story, down in the place
where collapse is inevitable, where love is
only love if it makes you bleed.
Portrait of My Lover Singing in Traffic
Man rushing onto Sunrise Boulevard, singing Disorder
in the Flesh: first threadbare notes, then his trousers
stunning the air—man singing the Jackknifed Torso,
Stabbed Back songs, man jerking between rows of cars,
people locking their doors, their faces ashen
when at last his shirt comes off. Wind carrying the ripped bar
of fabric to the sidewalk where I catch him, fitting fingers
to places his skin had been. Man rushing into traffic
losing his shoes, their holes like something singed.
Then his underwear. Then he's naked, I Ain't Got No Body.
Everyone watching, moving their lips, the train guards
lowering the song of the mechanical flashing arm,
stopping all of us. The muscle of him unstoppable,
uncontrollable song. Sirens reddening air,
a mouth opening back the counterweight song, I Been Rent
By Tougher Men, which becomes so quickly the Gravelmouth,
the Spreadleg, the Ribkicked song, which gives way behind glass
in the police cruiser to the I've Been Your Bulletproof
Piece of Ass, Now Take Me to Where I'll Die
in Shadow song. Inside my shattershot skin I sing
the broken ballads my mother taught me: My Body Severed
in Fogsway, the Derailed Train is My Shepherd,
I Shall Not Want, her voice audible even under all that
copmuscle and metal, singing the Song of Stained
and Never More Beautiful Than Criminal, and the man
is my mother, I'm filled with want. The lyrics are rushing
unbidden out of me, joining the shirtless choir in the street,
all hands locking, webbed behind the head, face between the legs
kicked apart, singing Don't Grieve So Open,
in motherless tones, right on through from the beginning.
A Brief History Of My Mother
My mother, fourteen, makes a girl
eat an entire can of Alpo.
At forty, she leaves her husband
for a man who wears women’s underwear.
Every Friday night of my childhood, she’s criminal.
The door creaks open for the same cop, his broad smile.
Bank of America calls for Marsha Hall.
I’m not in right now, she says.
My mother, thirteen, smokes mentholated cigarettes.
The burn dissolves to a tight hiss on her thigh.
She wakes to her father’s kiss and cannot breathe.
My mother promises, The abuse will stop with me.
She tries to die, once, by swallowing pills, choking
them up as I hold back her hair.
In green pants, orange sash: Miss Safety-Guard,
1982. She blacks out her front teeth, smiles at men
who cat-call to her on the corner, her stop-sign in hand.
Their faces quicken from the slap of her unbeauty.
Tries to die, once, by standing in traffic
on a dirt road at 3 a.m. My mother, desperate for a Mack truck.
My mother asks the doctors to turn off her dying
father’s respirator. She watches him struggle to breathe.
My mother’s tombstone will read,
Gone to see my mother.
-all poems from Now Your'e the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008)