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Jeannine Hall Gailey

Every Poem Has a Story in It

A main character. Some dialogue. A setting. A good poem creates a little drama, too. The car chase comes to a complete stop, at a hill just overlooking the sunset. The poem zooms in on the thoughtful face of the driver, a little bit of glass on her shoulder, in her long brown hair. The poem makes you think about death, about the driver as a child running through the grass, laughing, about sitting at her mother’s deathbed, holding her hand and squeezing. The sunset has provided a metaphor. Then the poem is off on a twist – perhaps the next shot is a polar bear on an ice berg, about to leap into the water, or the grey mist over an Appalachian forest, a mysterious green light. The poem wants to explore your dreams, too. If you don’t have imagery you don’t have anything to project yourself onto, a white screen, so to speak, your blank canvas. So you have now a smoking heap of metal, at the edge of an empty roadway, no eyes on the scene but your own. The narrator is a woman’s voice, over a soaring rock ballad, the beat of drums, something about survival of the fittest, something here that symbolizes hope, a white bird soaring into the middle distance, or a young girl, holding a toy car tightly in her hand. You get up, dust the popcorn off your lap, saying, “Yeah, but didn’t the poem promise us something like transcendence or inner peace? And there should have been more car chase scenes.”


Imagine a gene that rendered our cells
fireproof. A long line of witches burned
at the stake, so our DNA remembers:
flame means death. So one day a daughter
is born with the ability to repel bullets,
to hold her breath without ever drowning,
to survive the hottest blaze.
Unbreakable, undamaged, immune.
We will never be blamed for our own deaths,
labelled daemon for speaking “yes” or “no.”
Too many women right now dying
at the hands of their own fathers, husbands, brothers,
their memories imprinted on the next generation.
We will not go down without a fight.
If you kill us, we become invincible.
Jeanne d’Arc standing ablaze and immortal,
saying “No more.” Adaptive technology
on the rise – the ability to control the weather
or your minds only another DNA slip away.
We will wave our hands in the air,
and the sun goes dark, fireflies drop from their flight,
and all the fires in the world go out.

One Day There Will Be No Burning

We will wake up without the world shrouded in smoke
we will wake up without our eyes burning
without the cries of animals in distress people
in distress mansions farms churches all in flame
In this land of sunshine we learn to fear fire
the heat is scorching us off the map
the sea laps up the fire, the smoke,
the migrating birds avoid us now
we cannot breathe the pine and eucalyptus trees
the redwood trees the scrub grass the coyotes
and rabbits and cars everything burning

Everything will have already burned
and nothing will grow and then we will
be free of the burning we will wake up
with nothing free of everything
the sky over us will change from black to blue
the great mouth of the sky swallowing
all of our debris and ash goodbye our homes
goodbye we wait for the end but it is more likely
soon we will forget we will grow a garden again
we will furnish a home we will keep pets without fear
the sunshine will allow us to forget
the blue sky turning black with smoke

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