Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine. She hosts the talk radio poetry show Translated By, which can be found at blogtalkradio.com/onword. The following poems from Beers’ first full-length collection, A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing Ltd) appear here with her permission.
© 2009 Shaindel Beers
Where will we be the next time
they emerge, in 17 years,
when brood X nymphs first wriggle their way
out of exit holes, climb the trunks of oaks and maples,
sun themselves on viburnum,
pale and helpless, before their wings dry
so they can fly safely to trees to mate, lay eggs,
I’m not sure I have a concept of 17 years.
I remember Ronald Reagan was President,
I was jealous of my friend Lindsey because
she had a Debbie Gibson hat.
The Princess Bride came out, and is still
my favorite movie.
Seventeen years in the future seems daunting.
The boys at the little league field behind my house
will be men, the neighbors’ dog will be dead
and the tree in my backyard
will no longer be mine.
I could be living anywhere—
not one to put down roots, I can’t even guess.
Just yesterday, I realized, looking out your window,
that in less than two months
new trees will greet me from another window.
No longer the canopy of hardwoods,
but lush, tropical greens year-round
1,300 miles away from you.
And though we’ve talked about this,
I wonder what you’re thinking,
what you would like to be doing
with the seventeen years that this year’s
nymphs will spend underground,
burrowing, living on the roots of all those trees.
ELEGY FOR A PAST LIFE
I miss the honest life we used to lead
scraping up odd jobs so we could see
a movie the next town over,
and stare for a few hours at people
on the drive-in screen who weren’t
like us — who didn’t wear too big hand-me-down
flannels and mud-caked boots —
and even if they were playing farm people,
had never known that pinching pain
in the sacral spine that paralyzes
as you heft the bale by the twine
and let it avalanche down to the ground.
For days, after seeing a show, we’d sit in the loft,
legs dangling over the bleating sheep below
and dream about the life we’d live
when we’d escaped. Back then at sixteen
I thought we’d make it out together,
and become writers, the only job we could imagine
where we wouldn’t smell like shit or hay or cows
but too many months passed when I didn’t bleed
and when we were safe, the test negative
and burned in the rubbish heap behind the barn,
you left, too afraid of being trapped
in a cornfield town
to wait for me.
A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR
He was tall, well-built, blue-eyed,
a guy most girls would want to take to bed.
Then he reached for the beer with his left hand,
revealing the stump of his right.
We could tell the second he knew that we knew.
We’d smile, but the smile wouldn’t travel
all the way to our eyes. He’d turn back to the bar,
fold his arm closer so that we could
no longer see
as we rushed off to sling beers for guys
not as good-looking but more whole,
the ones who leered lecherously,
on “Short-Shorts Night”
and left ten dollar tips for two dollar beers
always expecting more, always bitter when we didn’t deliver.
The quiet one, we wounded week after week, a guy
any of us would have considered “out of our league,”
“a long shot,” if he had been unbroken,
the sad, blond man we were afraid to love.
They used to chuckle at him softly
the way the small-minded do at the simpleminded
when he would snore or fart in church–
And sometimes let him carry the collection plate
while they dropped in a sweat-earned buck or two
from callused, earth-caked hands. But it was her I watched–
Imagining how hard it must have been to have
a Mongoloid son and a husband so cruel he called
the boy “It” and left her out of shame. And yet–
she sat every Sunday of my childhood
beside a forty-something son she still dressed every day
and felt blessed enough with her life
to make me ashamed to pray for more.
Fridays Mrs. Wampler would give in
and leave the projector light on
as the film wound from one real to the other.
At six, the world moving backward amazed us
more than the world moving forward,
though that amazed us, too.
Full blooms squeezed back into buds;
seedlings hid themselves underground,
but our favorite was our claymation version
of Beauty and the Beast. We would cheer as each
petal affixed itself to the thorny stem
and the beast grew stronger, clap as Beauty
no longer wept at his deathbed. And soon,
he was a prince again, too polite to ever
insult a crone. This taught us that beginnings
are always best, despite all they say about
Happily Ever After. If we could invent
the automatic rewind, bodies would expel
bullets that would rest eternally in chambers,
130,000 people would materialize
as the Enola Gay swallowed the bomb,
landmines would give legs and fingers
back to broken children.
Right now, teeming cancer cells
would be rebuilding blood and bone.