I Never Figured How to Get Free

Donika Kelly
The war was all over my hands.
I held the war and I watched them
die in high-definition. I could watch
 
anyone die, but I looked away. Still,
I wore the war on my back. I put it
on every morning. I walked the dogs
 
and they too wore the war. The sky
overhead was clear or it was cloudy
or it rained or it snowed, and I was rarely
 
afraid of what would fall from it. I worried
about what to do with my car, or how
much I could send my great-aunt this month
 
and the next. I ate my hamburger, I ate
my pizza, I ate a salad or lentil soup,
and this too was the war.
 
At times I was able to forget that I
was on the wrong side of the war,
my money and my typing and sleeping
 
sound at night. I never learned how
to get free. I never learned how
not to have anyone’s blood
 
on my own soft hands. 

More by Donika Kelly

The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.

I am taken with the hot animal
of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs
 
and have them move as I intend, though
my knee, though my shoulder, though something
is torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead
 
on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,
one with skin empty as a shell and hollow
 
feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,
I do not touch them. I imagine they
were startled to find themselves in the sun.
 
I imagine the tide simply went out
without them. I imagine they cannot
 
feel the black flies charting the raised hills
of their eyes. I write my name in the sand:
Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls
 
skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.
I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg.
 
To the ditch lily I say I am in love.
To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrow
street I am in love. To the roses, white
 
petals rimmed brown, to the yellow lined
pavement, to the house trimmed in gold I am
 
in love. I shout with the rough calculus
of walking. Just let me find my way back,
let me move like a tide come in.
 

Related Poems

In California During the Gulf War

Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink—
a delicate abundance. They seemed

like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
the sackcloth others were wearing.

To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.

Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart

even against its will.
                             But not
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed

—again, again—in our name; and yes, they return,
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare

of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable—and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany

simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.