Saturday Feb 23

Wheeler-Poetry Lesley Wheeler’s fourth poetry collection, Radioland, is forthcoming in September 2015. Previous volumes include The Receptionist and Other Tales, a Tiptree Award Honor Book; Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; and Heathen. New poems and essays appear in Gettysburg Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Poetry, and she blogs about poetry at “The Cave, The Hive”. Recipient of fellowships from Fulbright, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other grantors, Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

Dirt Mermaid

The dirt mermaid wears footprints on her cheek.
Walk, don’t run, or you won’t hear her trilling
as she brushes her hair with a cocklebur.
Ear to the ground, nether parts submerged

in clay, she sings the browns: a solution
of secrets, glitter, and shape in decay.
The dirt mermaid knows how to be sad
in a charming way. Really, I’m lucky,

her tune implies. Some people are all one thing.
Busy heads floating five feet up
discover likeness in other human
faces and dislike it while she, sole

member of a fishy species, has only
the thin glass on puddles for company.
Her audience shrinks as the day gains heat.
Be still if you want to glimpse

her paddling in the loamy bank, barely
clacking the snail-shells. Meet her eyes,
those mica chips, and approach slowly.
Remember how worm-starred she will be,

how indifferent to heights. Come look
what’s in my hand, she croons, extending
a closed but upturned fist. Her nails
grit-black. It’s the end. Now try and forget.


All night I hunted the dogs
that hunted the child—
one by one planting
bullets like nightmare
in the head of each blurred
cur, each wilderness
of fur pricked up
and red teeth bared

Dream of shallow snow
scribbled over by
long grass, snow crunched
in a mitten by a child
wondering what to build—
who opens her hand
to study the model
landscape, riven islands
hairy with woolen threads—
not hearing silence
crack into freezing bergs

Whose grief is
this? Not yours,
not mine—we
could fold the map
and stow it in the glove
box, the girl an x
cast into twilight,
the circling pack
shrunk by distance

Yet somewhere in this
country wild
dogs killed a girl
who did not know
she could be stalked
yards from the back door
from the heap of dirty
spoons and forks that spelled
the glyphs for
no warning

At night the girl
stays gone but dogs
run in patterns and I
who have never touched
a gun shoot them down
one by one aim
at the skull of the angry
hungry dogs inside me