you will know when you see them
An army of girls march.
Black laced ankle boots,
bow and arrow lips,
pin-curled and bobbed hair.
Assassins disguised as orphans,
they prefer dusty roads to concrete,
lemon to strawberries. Once noble,
they fought for the greater good,
then were for hire until they grew weary
of middle-aged men and their sagging stories.
They now train against calamities—
hurricanes, fires, floods. They believe
in God, and aren’t afraid to fight him.
When you see them, slip them an apple
or a coin, but protect your wallet.
They are ravenous and sly.
start at the top
Floods are easy, if we get there at the right time.
Moses' Red Sea trick? Simple as that.
Twisters are tough, but we know what we're doing.
Hurricanes, too, but harder to reach.
We're trying to figure out earthquakes
before we head out West. We are not complacent,
but we know this work is bigger than us.
The old bastard is working on things
we can't even fathom. He's gone crazy,
his dementia is going to ruin the world of us.
we don’t share everything
Evening target practice.
Steel, rock, wood, fire whoosh
frenzied around us. Targets
on trees, fences, in the air.
We each have our speciality,
switch them up for better skills,
but even then boredom blooms.
Inevitable, the new girl asks
about our childhood. This is
our childhood, we answer.
But before, she asks, before all this.
Who were our parents? Where
were we born? How did we become
what we became? We shrug.
We tell her there is no before.
There is the present and the future.
The past is gone and the now
is what shapes us and what we shape.
We tell her this because most
can't remember, but those who can,
would much rather forget.
we won’t visit again
We've lost a few over the years. One crushed under a train as we hopped cars,
another shot during a break-in. Two died in battle.
One lost her hands fixing a bomb and drowned herself.
Lois was the only one who left on purpose,
who chose domesticity, an urban life, adulthood,
lured by the clatter of keys.
We were marching near Omaha and felt compelled to look her up.
One remembered her married name and tracked her down.
We crammed into her little kitchen, sunshine yellow and tomato red,
sent the new girl to pocket knives.
She baked cookies and let us fill our bags full when we left.
Lois wore lipstick, but her hair was a mess. She wore a gingham apron
with little embroidered flowers on the corners. Her arms were too skinny
and the rest of her had bloomed into the deflated dough body of a mother.
No one wanted to hold the baby.
She said she was happy, that she loved her life, her boys, her husband.
She cried when we said good-bye, and when she hugged,
her nails dug in like fishing hooks.
a mile outside of Stillwater
It's the Tornado Alley time of year.
Calculations and hunch have us on watch,
sleeping and acquiring in shifts.
When the twister touches down,
we have to be ready for the fight.
A group of almost- and barely-men
made camp on the other side of town.
They’re more dangerous than
anything God can throw at us,
so they're on watch now, too.
The new girl is terrified, begs
for instruction, as if in battle
it's just a matter of following a recipe.
You'll know, we say, but she shakes her head.
How can you kill if you don't have faith?
Her birds flew off this morning, so it's imminent.
We don’t tell her they’ll return.
She's distraught enough that her grief
will be a fierce weapon.
God doesn't know what he's in for.