Katrina E. Halfaker- Poems

the midwest

one broken white scale on a rubber dumpster lid hints;
when opened, within and under peeks a takeout burger bag
and styrofoam cup, probably full.
last week there was a television, still operational.
nearby, trees bark as their roots come up,
like toddlers stretching in bed.
teenage boys at the park stomping on bees in soda cans,
drenched humid soil like burnt popcorn fast in the nose,
next door, homebody honeymooners,
a couple licking each other’s papercuts in happily ever
mediocrity.
down the street, a raccoon perching on a trash can
eats a slice of tomato lazily,
his paws turning it stolen to examine,
like he has nowhere to be soon,
and nobody really cares.

***

This too, is introspective.

There is something to say
about the swiftness of contact and separation.
The cheetah, in a sprint, does not bend its neck.
The gaze goes unchecked and, like the head, is rapt
in the promise of consummation.
The cheetah’s coat roils in the run,
its muscles folding like pounded chamella dough
underneath the skin.
The fur flutters less noticed.
All is connected. No pauses.
Its rib cage exposed in the extension
screams human; the slung hips not unlike my own.
The belly and pelvis a folding cave, a dark warmth
elongated.
The cheetah’s toes flex for impact and know
the chill of hard packed soil and bent grass
before the body,
spread themselves into it as I do,
when naked in the night of a ceramic tub.

The cheetah sees, then goes.
The cheetah’s back legs glide to its front,
like a porch swing in a rough wind,
maintained.
The cheetah, in one vigorous second, will breathe
one hundred and fifty times.
Its claws will fling shards of dirt into the air,
never retracting- the full earthbound touch
occurring only half of its journey.
The cheetah, like the poet, uses a stalk and chase method.
The cheetah is, by academic standards, unsuccessful.
Less than forty percent of hunts are followed by a kill.
The cheetah abandons prey.
And after every bold bolt of movement, the cheetah dallies,
relatively inactive, occasionally prostrate, for a long period.
Only the cheetah knows why.

***

Terrorism and Waterfalls

Erna, her plain ceramic cookie jar
too high in the kitchen nook,
the tiled floor under dentist yellow light, a sheen of plastic
crème designs and tessellations.
Erna, her spine like a pickle curving
as she stoops to pour boiling water from a coal dark pot
onto the burgundy ants piling up in front of us-
where the sidewalk crack waits as weeds encroach-
and their colony hill, careful not to let the stream
splash. The ants throwing their legs and feelers upward
as they drift in the steaming puddle
what must be miles in an inch, for them.
Erna, her clean beige carpets calming
my bare feet. The glass candy dish on the doily, offering
an explanation. I turn my covers down,
lurch to the basement with a sense of invasion,
notice the folding screen by the washing machine.
I cannot put myself behind the panels.
Erna, standing at the stove clicking up a new fire,
measuring out another baptism,
inconsequential duty that it is.

***

Lessen

From my father
I learned to make cleaning cloths
from torn jeans –
nothing too used to be useful.
I learned that depression and poverty are best friends
and they eat your passion up like huntsman spiders –
all bite, impersonal,
and that labor is invisible if labor is the commodity
and all people are divisible if all people have anxieties
and almost no one will ask for your story
unless you use that tone of voice.
From my father
I learned dystopian authors often write about their neighbors
and that every president was once a boy in training
just like us.
From my father
I learned heroin is a high more like having your bones replaced
with steel rods and the world too electric than
euphoria of the pedantic
and alcoholism is genetic so
I should be careful.
I learned that coincidence,
if not fate, is still meaningful
and if a wealthy man runs me over
with his middle class car
I should go for the jugular.
How to be sincere when saying sorry
for who I did not intend to be
but was, anyway,
how to empathize with boundaries
and afford myself a meal out
once in a while to avoid that
sucking crush of feeling five dollars and three cigarettes poor.
From my father
I learned how to draft eulogies in advance
because forgiveness is a skill requiring we imagine
our most loved dead.
I am from my father
and from my father
I learned that you do not
stand on train tracks at dusk
in your only formal suit
with your hair slicked back
because our sole sin in life
is to create suffering
where it need not exist
and there is no acceptable apology for this.

About the contributor

Katrina E. Halfaker holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though a native of the south suburbs of Chicago, she currently lives in East Central Illinois with her husband and three cats. Her work has also appeared in Silver Needle Press. ______________

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