poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

LANGSTON HUGHES TRIBUTE ISSUE

Kathleen Hellen

 

WHY I WEEP FOR SIX WHITE HANDKERCHIEFS

I took it for a sign. A message in a bottle traveling seas
of African mahogany consigned to me. The slavery
of forms. Decades from the master craft of 1963
This dresser-drawer. This survivor
A noble joining. A handsome carpentry
I lavished with a lemon-scented polish
I rubbed. I worked the detail, pulled the drawers
A trust of headlines lined the war
Top Russ pianist and wife defect
Three towns in Laos fall to Communists

These oddities:
—Stockings (coffee bean)
—A letter posted Washington, DC
...........................in faded print predicting
...........................Dear Comrade, you have been elected …
—Photos of a girl with good hair dressed in pink
—A pack of six white handkerchiefs
The grief became me. Each drawer a cell identical
as relatives. As enemies. A second-hand of histories—
Russian or Laotian. Vietnamese. African
...........American
...........Never finished

 

 

 

Kathleen Hellen’s work has appeared in Barrow Street, The Hollins Critic, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and Witness. Awards include the Washington Square Review, James Still and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore. Her chapbook The Girl Who Loved Mothra is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. She is a contributing editor for the Baltimore Review.

 

Published in Volume 12, Number 1, Winter 2011.