by: Laura Sewall
Laurie Sewall’s poems interrogate the way American society and government impose their various wills on individuals and groups, defining who we are whether we like it or not. The poems offer the hope of breaking free, of leave taking, if only in our minds and our art: “Yet,/ today we assemble and invite you to come/ out of the poem.”
PRAYER AT THE MEMORIAL WALL
I invite the soldier who returned
from the war, the latest ground
battle, on the anniversary of the other
war—the other air-sea-aggression-continues
land battle—to not sacrifice troops, not
make earnest talks or attempt diplomacy, but
most impossibly to speak now. Because
we all, many of us, some within VA hospital
with incidents of injury, some loss of life, are
broken within and without you. And
the windows that leak, and the farm-
house we tried to repair when you left for
high-risk government programs, were
issued poor health, when we failed in talks
with the Russians and hospitals
contributed to deaths of some veterans. Yet,
today we assemble and invite you to come
out of the poem. Most impossible night
of the soul, speak
to us now as if nothing important is missing.
(The poem adapts several phrases found in USA Today articles, 2015.)
Everyone’s angry with the runaway: Once
married, motivated, and happy, now she must mow.
Three months of community service, thirty-seven
hours a week, for twelve-weeks-two-days or more. She
stands with feet in thick dirt; hair spills down into furrows,
following wings. Her feet, too, will grow wings.
She smacks clumped grass with her mower, tells
them she’s well. America loves to curse a madwoman, but
why is it wrong to climb out of production, to roam
and pick over the soil? Even now she is lazy, among
all the scowling and pity. She combs the field and meadows
back of the suburbs—delving in loam and cedar, grazing
on skunk grass and weeds. Her legs grow lean, arms
are scythes—even the wheat cannot bend her. She won’t
follow the schedule: sunfish out of the aquarium, dazzling
astronaut, first disciple in saffron to shave her head.
She paddles across the lake, a mile and a half to go. See
how she melds into rocks, a selkie—marble, turquoise, slate.
I descend into the lake, a mile and a half to go. Garnished
after the rain, there’s a mist, a cool slaked feel to this. The sky
is plush with gray and that soft, elemental
sheen as it breaks underwater—only a runaway knows.
Laurie Sewall’s poems have been anthologized and have appeared widely in literary journals including Ploughshares, Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, The Pinch, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and many others. She received an MFA in Poetry from New England College and an MA in Counseling Psychology from Lesley University. She currently lives and teaches in rural Iowa.