Rural road with fog

Two Poems by H.K. Hummel

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Finalist : Terrain.org 10th Annual Contest in Poetry

On Highway 19 at County Road 515, Where James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner Were Executed

So much green against green.
All that can go on out here,

can and will, and will go
unwitnessed.

No one’s watching nothing.
What are you gonna do?

After midlife. After illness, after divorce.
After getting schooled in loving

a decent bourbon, a waning crescent moon
of orange rind and one fine cherry. 

After nights dressed in Coltrane’s Naima
After coming to your knees.

Maybe then
you might learn.

The devil as shapeshifter:
a shiver of snakeskin,

bristling boar-haunch,
kudzu swarm.

The sheriff’s badge,
the alligator boots.

Cattle prod. Barbed wire wrapped
baton. Brass knuckles.

Attack dog. Rope.
Gasoline soaked torch.

Shot gun.
God, please.

There are so many ways this could go.
It’s a drive

you might take. Have taken.
Will take.

Your lover—the one you ached for
more nights than

you thought possible—
he’s here. So is your sweet boy.

And your brother, your brother
who knows every bit of ugly about you

and shows up anyway. No half-stepping,
no maybes about it:

Mississippi exists
in all of us.

What have you done?
What are you going to do?

You’ll pray so hard you beg.

 

 

Walk of Shame: A Corrigendum

I needed diamond point, smooth-shanked sinkers.
A cross-cut blade with plenty of teeth. Four hundred
pounds of concrete. I already owned your basic
ash-handled claw hammer, already knew

how to level the wood. I learned quick
to change my cashmere sweater
before entering the hardware store.
I refused to watch everyone watch.

My daughter and I have a never-ending
conversation about what is real or not.
Dolphins are real, mermaids are not.
Narwhals are real, unicorns are not.

Bad guys are real, monsters are not.
What about ghosts? Are they alive, but
in a different place? she asks.
That’s one theory, I say.

Summer is real, even though
sometimes it feels like it is not.
It’s possible I forgot what I wanted,
all I wanted. For how long? Who knows. 

Before I was twenty, I learned to obey
necessity. I kept a cigar box full of tip money,
paid bills, balanced the checkbook to the penny,
ate little. Later, I balanced everything:

the bills, the husband, the baby.
Our pain was electric. It was as domestic as
a bedbug. What all did I forget?
How quiet a house can be,

how simple a dinner. How a body eases
into a bath, or a bed, or a kiss.
The hardest thing might be
staying tender.

I wanted summer, the whole jesus, please of it.
I wanted the slow thick light of evening coming low
down the street. The planks of a picnic table
under my back and stars coming through

feathered treetops. Strawberries
tasting of soil. A treehouse
where my daughter could
do whatever she wanted.

For a long time, a polar bear lived in our
kitchen cupboard. He was feisty, grouchy,
stinky. He ate apples, took long naps, roared
at the cat, snored through dinner.

Even when she wasn’t there, I too heard him sigh.
Then, one day she asked where he’d gone.
I didn’t know. He was just gone.
How does something invisible vanish?

I hadn’t worn a ring in two years
when I started to sing through 2x4s
with a circular saw. I built the treehouse, 
picnic table, bed, the house around us—

and I knew, exactly, the heft and weight
and rise of all I wanted. 
 
  

 

 

H.K. HummelH.K. Hummel is the author of Lessons in Breathing Underwater (Sundress Publications, 2020) and the co-author of Short-Form Creative Writing: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018). She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and one of the founding editors of Blood Orange Review.

Header photo by Volodja1984, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of H.K. Hummel by Nancy Hightower.

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