The Lauren K. Alleyne Difficult Fruit Poetry Prize
I’d like a father—but, goddamn,
we’re so over. I was less than
one when my mother and I flew
across the Atlantic to you.
Mother was a nurse, nursing me
on empty. Eggs cost real money
and the Army didn’t bother
to put up your wife and daughter.
Padre di ciao! High in a flat
in Cortina, you pinched your hat
into a (tri)angle. Your hair
was debonair and black. I swear
I’ve forgotten the rest, except
the iron bed where we three slept...
and me on a sled in the snow.
being pulled by a dog I don’t know.
You took a prize-winning picture.
I think it captured my future
survival: flying in defense
of you by the seat of my pants.
In Roswell, you flew us over
the saucer wreckage. Whatever
the aliens brought was a curse
on us—the unfortunate birth
of my brother who could not talk.
You might say his life was a wreck
from which you never recovered
and mother never said never
until I had to save myself
by telling on you. Nothing else
to do, with two little sisters
and a brother in our pastor’s
hiding place. I got out of (h)arm’s
way by falling into the arms
of the writer you tried to get
(d)rafted. Though we weren’t married yet
we were living together when
the draftboard told us of that scam.
What kind of dad does that? You called
to try and get my boyfriend killed?
In Washington, we stood in line
against the war in Vietnam.
In Oregon, trees turned to logs,
and clouds to raining cats and dogs.
Our kids went from school to college,
baby brother mentioned marriage,
and your daughter’s call returned
a letter! Our (b)ridges aren’t burned?
After your silence, I feel hope
in this Pandora’s envelope...
or money? (N)ope! Only talk of it,
as if that matters. More bullshit:
Do I have an IRA account? No!
You stole my savings long ago
before you managed to harass
my husband’s draftboard and my boss.
You can’t imagine what you’ve missed:
(Grand)children you haven’t kissed.
Unlike your children they feel safe.
I have pictures you didn’t take.
I have a husband whose concerns
match mine. He studies and discerns
that love is not demanded nor
(with)held for twenty years or more.
We’ve been escaping overseas:
England, France, Spain, Italy, Greece.
Armed Colonels marched into a play
at Epidavros. I learned Nai
means yes, and a nod means no. When
did no ever mean yes instead?
Bonjour, mon père. We’ve gone to Rennes.
But, damn, il pleut! We’re back again
in Oregon to find what things
we’ve lost. This paradox has wings.
The more we fly, the less distance
we gain. It’s that bright red (lip)stick
of memory. The more I write
my past, the more it line by line
takes me home into that summer
Daddy wrote “Whore!” on my mirror.
You’ll never find me here. The neck
of Idaho is steep, and like
in Italy, above the heel.
Up here, I have a chance to heal.
Here, you can’t spank or zip my dress.
Palouse Hills are blown from the loess
of volcanic dust, not the live
mouth of Vesuvius you dived
into with those generals—those who
trusted you. What would you not do?
I’m starting my own war, mon pére.
Why were we afraid? You were there.
Why am I obsessed with books and sex?
Stressed about abuse? Plath (di)stressed?
Drawn to martyrdom? Joan of Arc?
Christ, why do I write in the dark?!
From the safety of my armchair
I scan my New Yorkers for their
accounts of war: the burst of bombs,
pillage by gangs with guns and brooms,
hegemony of religious hoards
who run young women through with (s)words.
Why did you give your airplane in the war
my name? Were you obsessed before
I was a woman? Is that all
you ever thought? How hard that fall
by gravity onto your lap,
how distressing your lessons, that
display of bone and boxer shorts--
sex lessons of a sordid sort.
Your second marriage was a fine
amnesty. You never found mine
tolerable. Now that you’re dead,
Daddy, (cold)cocked from heart to head,
I’ve moved on—safe to say—I’m all
in, my own (wo)man. Que tal?
Adiós Papá. Su hija
está en Albuquerque.
It’s not so far from Roswell, where
that saucer crashed. I remember
how you walked me to the hangar
how we swooped over the (d)anger.
To me, at four, it looked less like
a flying saucer than a broken kite.
Wasn’t I just your baby, then,
in the old days, at the war’s end?
Pamela Yenser, an Albuquerque writing instructor and book editor, is also 2018 winner of Bosque Journal's Poetry Prize for "Tenant's of Greece," a quartet celebrating poet James Merrill. Nominated at the University of Idaho for an AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction and Pushcart Prize in Poetry, Pamela has been the recipient of a University Prize from the Academy of American Poets, Antietam Summer Literary Award, Fugue Award, and poetry finalist at River Styx and New Rivers Press Many Voices. Her poems of witness, such as "Zipper Trip" (Massachusetts Review -referenced in EBSCO, Humanities Index, and JStor) are taught in Gender Studies classes. Her work appears in The Midwest Quarterly, Pivot, Poetry Northwest, Shenandoah; in numerous anthologies; and online at Connotation Press, Notable Kansas Poets, and others.