Mary Makofske

Lone Gunman

His eyes say so, blank as they are, refusing or unable to reflect,
diminishing another to a speck, a mote to be plucked out.
We want him alone, singular, solitary, divorced from the thirst
for revenge we call justice, the justice he plans to wield
with cold metal on those he believes deserve to die.
Alone, on the bus rank with wet coats and mud, bad breath, sweat,
cherry candy in the mouth of the girl beside him. Alone, in class
where he never speaks, jostled in crowded halls but never touched.
Alone, but for birds that flutter like scarves around his head
and whisper annunciations of death. But where did they
hatch? In lit match / fist / belt / cage / whip / words like blades—
or were they human made? In twisted messages of DNA /
a cell’s wrong turn / a gap in the chain / bacteria or virus /
hallucinogen lodged in the brain. . . but where was it from?
What flame retardant / antiseptic wipe / antibiotic / pesticide?
How many minds and hands does it take to create the chemicals
which create a lone gunman? How many toxic messages
does it take to create a lone gunman? You piece of shit
You garbage / moron / Can’t you do anything right?

torture is wrong / torture is right / torture is right if you’re the good guy
killing is wrong / killing is right / killing is right if you’re the good guy
“Never fight if you can avoid it, but when you must fight,
don’t lose.” “Both the handgun and the shotgun remain top choices
for clearing out ruffians who are encroaching on your territory.”
“Fireproof gun safes protect guns and if all other things burn
to ashes the guns are still safe.” And you are. Safe. With your guns.
As all else burns to ashes. How can we tease a lone gunman
from the fabric of our lives, our striving, our own demons?
Why can’t he suffer his demons alone, never breaking the surface
of our lives, this lone wolf casting for his pack? Why can’t he sing,
pushing his cart of discards through the streets? Why can’t he sleep
curled on the pavement as we step over him? No. He’s coming
to the party though he wasn’t invited. He’s bringing the fireworks,
the flaming sword. He wants back in. He wants to take us out.

from World Enough, and Time (Kelsay)

My Mother, La Profesora, 1938

One by one they bend their heads
over the sink where she lathers
lye soap into their black hair, rubs
their scalps, and feels below their skulls
such energy, minds storing hard words
she teaches, rough consonants that refuse
to sing. Because the school has running water,
she considers this, too, her job,
washing out lice that distract
them from lessons. She glides
a fine-toothed comb through their heavy
hair, reweaves the braids of the girls.

Sometimes she needs to hold her breath
because she cannot wash their whole
bodies, rank in the blistering heat.
She wishes she could wash shame
from their lives, the history she must
teach where they are the invaders,
the defeated. Scars on their hands
from thorny cotton bolls, they curl
their fingers around pencils, write
I live in Texas. I come from Mexico.

As she learned to play piano by ear,
without a single lesson, she learns
their language. Hola, she greets each new
student and asks the class, ¿Por que
Why do you study?
and they answer, Estudio porque necesito
. I study because I need to learn.
Her need as well, though she left college
after her freshman year, president of her class,
the future shimmering before her, when
history barged into her life like a drunk
in a bar. The Dust Bowl, the Crash, and then
her mother stricken speechless, one side paralyzed,
a weight she took up willingly until it disappeared.
The farm is gone, within a year her father will die,
within five her oldest brother will leave
for California, her family scattering
like dust from this parched land.

Before the brick schoolhouse my mother,
the only Anglo in the picture, poses
with her students. Only one is smiling,
unless you also count the beautiful girl
whose lips barely curve, but whose eyes
are dancing. In the front row, most of the boys
sit cross-legged in denim overalls they might
wear to the fields. Three are barefoot.
Perhaps facing the sun makes them grimace,
or squint, or furrow their brows. Or perhaps
the future they stare at with steady gaze
gives them nothing to smile about.

La Profesora smiles pensively, a smile that makes
the most of what she has. But she voted
for a New Deal, she has heard of jobs
in the government. She does not believe
her younger brother must settle
for the silver plate over his cleft palate
when a doctor in Washington, D.C.,
can mend his mouth. Isn’t the future
another language she can learn,
a song she can, by instinct, play?

from World Enough, and Time (Kelsay)

A Tough One

In the time it took to write that poem,
I could have torn down a wall,
stapled in fiberglass insulation, nailed
up sheetrock, taped and spackled,
primed, painted, selected and hung up
a collection of paintings.

I could have raised a chicken, wrung
its neck, gutted and plucked it,
chopped it and the onions and carrots,
browned, stirred, simmered, driven out
to buy the wine, uncorked it, set
the table, lit the candles, opened the door
to our friends, dined, talked, laughed,
seen them out and collapsed,
cleaned up the kitchen,
recovered enough to make love,
made love, and slept eight hours.

Thank goodness I didn't have to write it
all at one sitting. Oh, no, it came and went like
malaria. For days or years I was perfectly well,
and then without warning fevered
with stumbling line breaks, shaky metaphors,
the fog of delirium. A vision of words
I loved. Their remembered smell.

Stone in my shoe, berry seed
lodged between tooth and gum,
sometimes I wanted only to be rid
of you. Pregnancy dragging on and on,
now that you breathe, I can see you whole.
Now I forget my labor and want
another and another.

from World Enough, and Time (Kelsay).

About the Author

MARY MAKOFSKE’S latest book is World Enough, and Time (Kelsay, 2017). Her book Traction (Ashland, 2011) won the Richard Snyder Prize. Her other books are The Disappearance of Gargoyles and Eating Nasturtiums, winner of a Flume Press chapbook competition. Her poems have appeared recently in Southern Poetry Review, Poetry East, Slant, Antiphon, Stone Canoe, The Stillwater Review, Earth’s Daughters, Calyx, Whale Road Review, and other journals and in seventeen anthologies. She received 2nd place in the 2015 Paterson Literary Review Allen Ginsberg Awards and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. A resident of Warwick, NY. she’s read at colleges, libraries, bookstores, and literary societies, loves gardening, and dotes on her grandsons.

(click here to close this window)