When You Think You’ve Said Goodbye to Versailles

 

I often think of those school friends I’ve lost over the years, and this poem is loosely based on a girl named Cheri I’d known since kindergarten who ran away from home when we were high school juniors and subsequently died of an overdose in her early 30s. Something turned her from a sweet, fun-loving kid to an angry preteen and teenager. I have my suspicions, but they’re all conjecture. The phrase “one-eared cat punch” just came to me one day, and the first draft flew out from there. Cheri really was like a one-eared cat punch—she was tough, she’d fight anyone who tried to take advantage or cross a line, and yet there were moments when she’d grab onto a small kindness and hold on tight. A staccato cadence was important to me, because everything she did seemed sharply separated: shoving her way through life, pushing people out of the way, grasping onto what she could for just a minute, then right back to barging on to the next thing. We came of age during the 80s, so including the reference to Heathers was important to anchor this poem in that time. Cheri became Wynona Rider for me, especially when Ryder says enough’s enough and fights back. I wanted Cheri to have a better ending than what she had been dealt with in real life.

 

The Middle of Sorrows

 

Rural Nebraska pervades so much of who I am and what I write about most. I’m in the Sandhills often, driving country roads where it’s not uncommon to travel for miles before coming across another car. AM radio is the only option if someone doesn’t have satellite radio, and I find a strange comfort in listening to the ever-present ag station as I pass one ranch marker after another. The ag station’s announcer runs through daily prices for corn, winter wheat, milo, hogs, and cattle at noon each day. For those out there who know cattle, the term “broken mouth cows” will be instantly understood. I’ve always loved this term, which means nothing more than an older cow. Not broken mouthed at all; still healthy, still vibrant, just a little older. I’ve always known I’d use “broken mouthed cows” in a poem one day, but I didn’t know it’d be in such a sad piece. But sometimes the poem knows where it’s going on its own if I just let the words fall on the page, and that’s what happened here. Yes, it’s sad, but I’d also like to think it’s an ode to small-town life filled with good people who silently endure tough and heartbreaking things.

 

You Can’t Have Me

 

A theme I often explore is marriage—its contentments and joys, and conversely its frustrations and limitations. I am not rewriting the wheel here with what I loosely call “the marriage poems”; I am only trying to make sense of the ups and downs of my own marriage, and the marriages/partnerships of other women I know, particularly from a rural sense of identity and common gender roles, for lack of a better descriptor. I think with any relationship, if we’re being honest with ourselves, there will arise moments of struggling to remind our partners that we are still individuals separate from the relationship. This poem came about from an actual argument a friend told me she’d had with her husband over a coyote repeatedly trying to get into their chicken coop. She wanted to reinforce the chicken coop; he wanted to eliminate the threat—how they each saw this from such different angles got me thinking about the actual similarities between the apex predator (coyote) and the alpha male (her husband).