Poems by Mary McLaughlin Slechta

From Wreckage on a Watery Moon:
Driving Lesson

Kill the deer, I tell my son.
Kill the stunned bird that can’t fly,
kill the migrating tortoise,
kill the chipmunk and the indecisive squirrel,
kill the woodchuck and the snake,
kill the skunk, kill the possum,
kill the cat, kill the dog.

The car’s grid and windshield are already death traps,
I argue. And the only hierarchy to saving lives
on the road is you, at the top,
and everything else at the bottom.
Kill anything that gets between you and coming home.

This lesson contradicts everything I’ve ever told him
about human kindness and he, who’s been waging war
with his brother since birth, doesn’t want to hear.

I tell the thirty-year-old story of his grandpa’s co-worker.
His daughter didn’t hear a story or, if she did,
she didn’t listen. She couldn’t get Bambi out of her sight.
She crossed the centerline and broke her father’s heart.
Look in those big, dopey eyes, I say,
to underscore the point, and think of the girl’s daddy.

Kill the deer, I tell my son.

What I won’t say, what’s his to see in the road behind,
is the story of a boy who heard the story of the girl
and wrote his own with a happier ending.

One afternoon, a hundred yards off, the boy saw a pale,
curved shell inching slowly through the rain.
He could break, but that kid didn’t swerve.
Twenty-one, he knew his business. There was a pole
one side, oncoming traffic the other. And he lived…
That boy and his brother got home from Blockbuster
and after they washed from helping the EMT
and settled down, life went on. They watched a movie
and returned it. They took out another one.

You think the mother and father of those boys
didn’t sleep well that night?
You think my father, the snail in this story,
ever told me any different?

Kill the deer, I tell my son.
This is Eden and I’m God giving you dominion
over all the earth.

Kill the deer, I say.
This is God speaking. You’ve killed your brother.
And whether you meant to do what you did
or not, I leave a mark upon your hand.
But life goes on.

Kill the deer, I order him.
I’m God and you’re Abraham.
I ask you this favor because I love you
and I need you to prove something to me.

If you love me,
kill the deer.
From her chapbook Buried Bones:

Crawl Space
On hands and knees
real time compressed
like baking powder biscuits
between my eyes,
I fit the crawl space
in my grandmother’s room.
I stroke the silky dresses
that curve like kittens
in my hands
and reshape battered hats
around my head.
I etch these walls again
with one small memory
that’s tall and fine enough
to fit these clothes:

It’s Sunday-go-to-meet’n time.
A lady leaps
from a seat up front
and grows twenty times
her size in height
and width.
She shouts a song
on skipping, tripling
talking tongues,
and dances one-step, one-step
on the rumbling floor
beneath her feet.
Grandma pulls me closer
to the safety of her side
and promises my worried belly
that appetite is not forgotten.
She conjures a banquet table
of chicken in my mind
where the holy ghost
rubs elbows
with the hungry child.

originally published in Phati’tude

Losing faith
In second grade I had the braids,
the name and faith
to play the mother of Christ
Instead they gave the part to white Patty
and meant to appease me
with “conductor of the ho-ho-ho choir”

I scraped and bowed the verses
in a party dress that rose and fell
with applause and laughter
Even my mother and sister saw the joke
inside a saggy pair of bloomers

Who among them understood
how the role of “Mary”
suited me better
How it still does
thirty years later
with only a name
to recommend me

originally published in Paterson Literary Review and featured in the anthology: Identity Lesson: Contemporary Writing about Learning to be American.

Buried bones

With a sweep of oily fingers,
my father’s friend invites us
to sit for dinner.
His children standing nose-height
to the table sigh, like six balloons,
at our polite refusal.
Their father shakes his trousers clean
and beckons that what’s left
of bones and meat
is theirs to pick and gnaw.

My father says nothing

and shames himself
for a million years.

He takes me home to fill
a place laid open
wide between us.
I stuff myself
on all his good intentions,
but memory I hoard
like buried bones.

originally published in Paterson Literary Review

Some facts about the poet: Much of Mary McLaughlin Slechta’s work centers around growing up Jamaican-American in rural Connecticut of the 1960’s. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in journals and anthologies including Many Mountains Moving, The Paterson Literary Review, and The Gihon River Review. She’s published a chapbook, Buried Bones, and a new in 2005 book, entitled Wreckage On a Watery Moon, (both from Foothills Publishing). The Boy’s Nightmare and other poems, an illustrated chapbook, is forthcoming from Feral Press. She teaches English as a Second Language in Syracuse, New York, where she lives with her husband and two sons. She joined the editorial staff of The Comstock Review in 2003.