Poetry: Selections from Candice Kelsey
She asked when she could come to the hospital to see her new niece / let’s wait / he told her // The season of Advent had begun / to wrap a wreath / like a swaddling blanket / or womb / around the world // A week later she asked when she could bring her kids to meet their new cousin / let’s wait another week / he demurred // On Sunday the pastor lit the first candle / symbolizing the hope God’s people place in baby Jesus / & she remembered a favorite Robert Louis Stevenson poem / about a man heading to sea on Christmas morning— we cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light // A week later she asked if it were time to meet the baby / not yet / we’re nervous about flu season / he said // That Sunday the pastor lit the second candle / symbolizing the peace we will find / in the face of baby Jesus / so she read more of Stevenson’s ship— her nose again pointing handsome out to sea // On the third week she texted another request to visit / maybe next week / was the reply // Her pastor lit the third candle / for love / & she wept over its sixth stanza— the house above the coastguards was the house where I was born // She asked again to see her niece / yes, come over on Christmas Eve for a bit / her brother granted // She left church before the lighting of the fourth candle / Joy / to find a gift for the baby / & forgot about the 19th Century sailor— in the darkness and the cold // But Instagram pictures of her newborn niece on Santa’s lap / & passed from lap to lap at holiday parties / left this woman confused // She wrote a sentence or two in her blog / comparing the wait to see her niece to the season of Advent / how so much of life is waiting / & often we are on the outgoing ship when we would rather be home // Three years later her brother texts / You ruined my first Christmas with the baby / with your blog // So she wrote a poem.
Charmin Ultra Soft
I come home from the store
without the usual brand of toilet paper.
This brand better be soft,
my husband remarks.
On the TV, March Madness
zooms in on cheerleaders’ bare legs.
Next thing I know I am one.
And so are my two daughters,
my mother, and my dead mother-in-law too—
We bounce down the aisles
turning the occasional cartwheel
between tossing our groceries into the cart
with spirit hands and smiles.
We wink at the butcher,
the Girl Scout troop leader, even the baggers.
Our kicks say it all: we know
men cut us down to skin, legs, ass, midriff,
and tits. They want our softness
high quality like their paper products.
At Publix today, the shelves
were empty— pressure to boycott
Charmin for Procter & Gamble’s
abysmal deforestation practices,
harming indigenous peoples and the climate.
I remember thirty-five years earlier,
sliding south on I-71
through the Lytle Tunnel with my dad
on the way to a Reds game.
As the car emerged to meet downtown
Cincinnati, his mouth widened
at the rounded twin P&G towers
rounding out the Queen City skyline:
Look! The Dolly Parton Building.
An Ode to Never Forget the Mass Graves of Bucha, Ukraine
a poem found in the words of Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night
Crammed into cattle cars by the Hungarian police, they cried silently. Standing on the station platform, we too were crying The train disappeared over the horizon; all that was left was thick / dirty smoke / behind me. , someone said, sighing, "What do you expect? That's war… " The deportees were quickly forgotten / a few days after they left, it was rumored that they were in Galicia, working, and even that they were content with their fate. days / went by. Then weeks & months: . Life was normal again. A calm, reassuring wind blew / through our homes. The shopkeepers were doing good business, the students lived / among their books, and the children played. in the streets. One day, as I was about to enter the synagogue, I saw Moishe the Beadle sitting on a bench near
Her older brothers went to Dustin for Spring Break. They totaled the family station wagon. She was only fourteen and secretly happy. Knowing that the No Fat Chicks bumper sticker was being towed away to a junk yard was cathartic. Things are different now. She goes to Daytona Beach for Spring Break. She’s with her high school friends, happy and free. They dance all night at Whitehall, drinking Blue Hawai’ians after a day of sun. Steve Miller Band’s The Joker plays on loop in their hotel room, the lyrics dripping over the balcony like wet swimsuits. She laughs more than she thought humanly possible.
When she gets back home, it’s Easter. Her aunt and cousin are visiting from Connecticut. It’s her job to make the salad. She forgets to tear the lettuce properly. Her mother scolds her. She tastes a piece of turkey when no one’s looking and swallows a spoonful of warm potato with gravy. Her mother scolds her. She feels fat. The guilt destroys her. She must get rid it all, purge her mother’s voice. She hides in the bathroom of the crowded condo. The house is full of people, but she is emptying. Her mother pounds the door, announcing my daughter is puking again. She becomes the family station wagon — far away, totaled.
An Incident at Santa Monica High School
as told by our Pakistani exchange student
The two orchard villains exiled for treason
Trod east of Eden, chins down and perplexed;
So too were Aman, Squeaks, Miriam, and me,
Pushed from the bleachers and into the fray.
O, black day by the Viking Pride track!
The sea was boiling a maelstrom of hate—
Little we knew of our soon bleak fate.
Mysterious freshmen, perched on the grass:
An eye on the guys, an eye on the girls,
& a distaste for Cheetos flaming hot.
O black day by the Viking Pride track!
Showdown in process, high noon it was.
Impertinent snakes with tongues red & swift,
They questioned Jasmine with vicious intent.
Enough— the Bitch! ball was thrown. O—
Black, black day by the Viking Pride track!
Poor Miriam missed out, adrift on Skype Sea,
But Squeaks and Aman charged fast to defend.
In horror I ran for assistance somewhere—
The peak of my wrath, no hijab on this head!
Candice Kelsey is a poet, educator, and activist currently living in Georgia. She serves as a creative writing mentor with PEN America's Prison & Justice Writing Program; her work appears in Grub Street, Poet Lore, Lumiere Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, and Poetry South among other journals. Recently, Candice was chosen as a finalist in Iowa Review's Poetry Contest and Cutthroat's Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. Her third book releases September '22.
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