Back to Issue Sixteen.

elegy for the oft-fabled stepchild



“She slammed down the lid, and his head flew off, falling among the red apples.”
The Juniper Tree, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Picture him pressed and tucked beside
the kitchen sink, reaching for the fruit bowl.
Picture the room unfathomable: clock

of ivory, red floor, antiqued oak table,
and his head rolling off of its trunk,
clicking open like a lock, in its seventy-

eighth month, in which she blanched
his pieces into nothings as spilled flour
haunted the window, the table. This is

the yard untillable. The ground pushed up
fathoms of stinging weed-flowers. What
if all mothers came out of the red-hot earth

like iron? What if all fathers devoured their
young? What if we could sing to children
like precious stones through holes in the

dirt? What of the Mother Under the Table,
the Mother of Blunders? She who lifted him
from silt, who stuck his mouth full

of glue, as only a mother is able? There
goes the oft-fabled stepchild now,
mind wandering, directionless as pollen,

top lopped off like a dandelion, tumbled
under and thither, rolling among the crab-
apples, past the blue-feathered hills.



i am thinking of the tool shed, jet-black hornets



Rust-eaten shears. Oak stool. Floorboards
worn and cracked. I am thinking of that shed

full of hornets. It leaned its stack beside the creek,
ornery and bent. In cool Octobers, dreadful

ornaments grew in its corners, story-fed, born
through wood-grit, horned and humming. Who

would get the wood there, fetch the rake, wet
from the leaking rain? Stray cats collided. My

youngest uncle’s Marlboro hack. His hair
was red, not jet-black. The hornets burrowed,

then rose above the stacks of firewood, unfurling
like a cloud. Burn it. Scuttling back, blue-black

almost, purring on the pile of boards. This
is the red welt on my leg. Mourn it almost,

the stinging hive-bed. Another memory to tuck
into your sack. But not the worst, the one

the one for which you will pack bags, shut
the tool shed door, let the latch turn, spurn it

like a fool, go off angrier than the roaring
branches in the storm, its sack of cold wind,

its scorn, its mules unfed. Even if you could return,
where would you look for your cracked palms,

your old southern drawl? What would you bet
against the coming clouds? Would you even bet?


Robert Campbell‘s poems have appeared in Columbia Poetry ReviewNinth Letter, and elsewhere. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He holds an M.S. in Library Science and is currently an M.F.A. student at Murray State University. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where he serves as a Reference & Instruction Librarian at Transylvania University and Reviews Editor for DIALOGIST, an online journal of poetry and art.

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