by: Dawn Potter1
These poems by Dawn Potter dare to speak frankly of trauma: the haunting trauma of a desiccated culture which preys on us, and the internal trauma that marks our psyche as surely as bruises mark our bodies. The trauma that we cannot fully escape, even in the “peaceful hideous damage of dreams.”
“Precious Memories!” screams
the backlit sign in the lot across from the animal
shelter in the autumn of my life.
A sudden wind whips a spatter of hard rain
through gas-station plazas and funeral-home porticos.
I motor sedately, transliterating billboards and neon coils.
“Be kind to the wicked,” whispers each virtuous advertiser,
each quaintly brutal heart.
Heart, I know, connotes oleo and a diamond.
Define kind and wicked for yourselves.
The bruises leer at her,
as if Satan has beaten her soft
white thighs with a hammer.
Who’d be hitting on you?
the man laughs, askance. This is a joke
but not a joke.
The bruises are as fat as fists
and they reek of evil.
It wasn’t him, don’t think it—
not him, not him.
God’s truth, she’s got no one
to blame but herself.
She bumps into walls and doorframes,
trips over chairs, collides with stone.
Fifty years old, and she still
doesn’t know where her body is
or what it’s supposed to be doing.
The bruises appear without warning,
The colors shift—from black, to purple, to a sick
and bloodless green,
hue of the sky on Judgment Day.
Maybe it’s sleep,
maybe the demons are bent on killing her,
but the only details that cling
are a small cat, a spoon, an empty road.
Bewildered, she stands at the mirror.
From the bed, the man asks,
Do they hurt?
Go ahead! the bruises cackle.
Tell him, tell him!
But she can’t speak the words for misery
or ignorance, the scrape of mortified flesh,
the peaceful hideous damage of dreams.
Dawn Potter directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, held each summer at Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, New Hampshire. She is the author of seven books of prose and poetry, and her poems and essays have appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Sewanee Review, the Threepenny Review, and many other journals. She lives in Harmony, Maine. For more details, you can check out her blog.
- Header art by the phenomenally talented artist Rita Ackermann. [↩]