IN THE HEYDAYS OF HIS EYES
(taut jeans dancing)

An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
 
 
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TESTIMONY

Corrine Hales

On the way to church, we'd pass the place The neighbor boy's body had been Found a few days after his father Beat in his brown-haired head With a quart-sized root beer bottle. The first day we made ourselves go straight To the spot--some broken glass, A bare space in the field, the dirt turned A little, as if someone had thought Of a garden and given it up. Nothing else. After that we began to swerve, Making a new path through thick summer Weeds. Inside scrubbed church walls, The world looked different. Soft-edged Women sat, fanning themselves slowly With pastel cardboard fans, moving only Their slender wrists, staring out Into the blue air. Babies slept easily In their laps, safe, believing in good mothers Who would catch them if they rolled And hold them if they cried. One by one People stood, moved to testify To their faith in a merciful Jesus. Turning Faces toward the smooth white ceiling, They'd give thanks and plead for their lives. At seventeen, I had already learned What a man could do to me If he chose to. Each new time He climbed on top of me, I was trusting him With my life. He would hold my wrist Between his thumb and finger, saying: I could snap this in a second, or your arm, Or your neck. And I knew the rancid taste Of gratitude when he let me live. That may be why, on a hot August morning When I saw my own first baby, I was overcome by the uneasy revelation That giving birth is not giving life-- Birth had been mostly out of my control. But those tiny wrists, her fingers, Her delicate wobbly head, told me clearly That she was at my mercy. I'd have to decide Again every day to let her live. When the woman on the fifteenth floor began Throwing her children out of the window One by one, the citizens of Salt Lake City Were powerless to stop her. We ran back and forth In the streets below, begging her To have mercy on the children. We would have Given her anything--money, our houses and cars, even love, To save one of those falling bodies. And we would fall Happily to our own knees in the ripe gratitude Of an errant child whose punishment, on a whim, Has been miraculously rescinded. But mercy, After all, is just another word For power, and on that clean city sidewalk, As we covered up what was left, we began to understand Our position. She was closer to her ancient god Than any of us could imagine, and she had accepted The terrible responsibility that comes with being Above other people.


WAR STORIES

Corrine Hales

I. Underground In those days, the world Was going to end. Our favorite playhouse Was nothing but a big hole Dug in an empty field, covered With old boards, piled high with dirt. On summer days, we'd crawl Underground with candies and chocolate, Pretend the bombs had come And we were safe. Sitting in near-dark, we played Cards, talked, smoked stolen cigarettes And giggled when above-ground footsteps-- Somebody running--sent Dirt sifting down into our hair.

II. War Stories The truth is, I was ashamed That my father hadn't fought In the war. I made up stories To account for the paralyzed left side That had kept him safe. He'd been A paratrooper, shot right out of the air Over Germany, I said. The Germans Dug their filthy shrapnel Out of him with his own knife While he was fully conscious, And they kept him alive only because It was so close to the end Of the war. And there were other stories. When a fifth grade teacher made us stand And tell what our fathers did For a living, I said I had no father. I told them mine had been A fighter pilot, killed Like a schoolmate's father, in Korea. I don't know how I said those things-- Except that my father couldn't keep a job. He wouldn't go to church, and war Was the only acceptable Excuse for the way we were living.

III. In the Event of a National Emergency Would you rather have your child Sent home or remain at school? Every year My mother agonized at the choice. We tried it Both ways: If we were targeted We'd have thirty minutes, someone figured, Lead-time before the flash. They sent us Running at the noon whistle, out of doors, Down the streets, racing the clock, running Home--safe-all the way Into the innermost room of the house. I made it With time to spare, but my father refused To cooperate. He wouldn't let my mother Fill in the form that recorded My time. He said when the time came None of this would matter. At school along with spelling And times tables, we were drilled In emergency procedures: Pulling the blinds, Ducking under our desks, or marching down Into the school's damp, windowless cellar Where we were shown the radio, Black bottles of water, blankets, Batteries, canned food. When we asked What about the bathrooms, the answer was always The same: Don't worry. When the time comes, we'll get by.

IV. Resurrection When the time comes, the righteous Have nothing to fear. Our mortal bodies Will be restored to their most perfect State in the resurrection. If only I could convince my father To come into the church, to give up His bad habits, to pay His tithing--to live By the commandments of the Lord-- We would all be saved. I used to imagine Him young, before the sickness Crippled his body and left him Used and bitter like some forsaken Lover. I could never understand His resistance. I imagined disappearing scars, Perfect eyesight, lost teeth popping back Into place. My mother said it wasn't meant So literal. But hadn't I seen Her own body raised up By the power of the Lord? After the last Childbirth, the elders came to her sickbed, Anointed her with sacred oil, and laid Their hands on her body In prayer. "You are needed here, Sister," They said, and she got well.

V. Saturdays They showed the same movie Over and over. You could walk into the middle, Sit through the end, the beginning, To the middle again. It didn't matter That the plot had been carefully Structured. In spite of the posters Urging us to See It From the Beginning, no one ever bothered To find out the schedules. If you wanted, For the price of one ticket, you could see A movie three, maybe four times In a row, never leaving your seat, until It was as dark outside as inside.

VI Too Much Light One morning we were shown Those famous photos of the negative Imprints on Japanese Walls--to make us aware Of the dangers of the flash. It was like flying too close To the sun, they said. I remember My father telling me: If you live Through the lightening, kid, You've nothing to fear From the thunder. I remember burning Ants by the hundreds on the playground, Holding a magnifying lens Over the entrance to the biggest Anthill we could find. One by one As they crawled out Into the light, if we had focused Just right, those red ants would smoke, Shrivel and be still. The photographer told us not to look Directly into he flash. I'd forgotten To wear the prescribed dark Colored blouse and the teacher sighed, Said my face would probably disappear Anyway, I was so pale. She insisted I wear my glasses, lined us up According to size. On the front row, Because I was so angry, I stared straight Into the huge bulb until it flashed, A quick knife in my head, Leaving me sick and confused. In this School picture, I am fading, very small, Very white, and I have no eyes.

VII. Aftershock Because we lived near the tracks We were used to trains Shaking up our house, so the earthquake Itself didn't frighten us much. We woke To rattling dishes, windows, and a pot sliding Off the stove, crashing to the floor. Later that day the aftershock Hit while some of us were outside playing Baseball in the schoolyard. When the hard ground suddenly shifted Under my feet, I started running, Floating on waves of earth, back Toward the building, trying to get in. But there were other children rushing out The doors, coming toward me, and through His red megaphone, the principal Shouted for everyone to remain Outside, a safe distance from the school. It made no sense. I wanted only to be surrounded By floors and walls, and to get away From that terrible, unstable ground.

VII. Faith The first thing was, the boy Had to stay inside. His parents Kept the drapes drawn, and the one time I visited, his room was dim, air Rose-colored, and everyone was praying In whispers. When he got thinner They took him away and the congregation Was asked to fast one day A week to make him well. Four Sundays In a row we went without meals And knelt, eyes closed, as elders pleaded With the Lord to save this boy. I'm still not sure when the prayers began To change, but one Sunday evening, Stomach growling, I looked up During prayer meeting and heard The bishop asking God to relieve this boy's Pain and suffering. I understood We were praying for him to die. And when he died, we thanked the Lord For his everlasting mercy.

IX. Annie's House In the other room, I'd dance To the radio with Annie's kids While she carried on Business in her bedroom. She paid me Those afternoons by the hour To keep her children Happy and out of the way. I'd watch Her getting beautiful, humming, Brushing her black hair, changing Her clothes. She'd pull the blinds And remove the children's toys From the bedroom. Sometimes I'd hear Voices--they said yes, and please, And they said it felt good. My mother said If you were paid for it, you had to pretend It felt good. Annie told me Because she was on welfare, we had to Be careful. It would be all over If the caseworker came by. Whenever There was a knock at the door, I'd grab The kids quick, pull them down Beneath the kitchen table Where we'd crouch, quiet as death, Until the knocking stopped And we heard footsteps, a car door Slam shut, and the driving away.

X. Night Vision My sister and I lied to our parents So we could spend the night In our underground house. We said We were sleeping outside With someone else. After dark We sneaked blankets and flashlights Out to the field and crept down Into our private place. That night, because we were alone, We took off our clothes and began Learning to touch Our own bodies and each other For comfort. We swore, no matter what, We'd stay until morning, but sometime In the night a train roared by And the walls began to crumble. We closed our eyes and held on tight To each other, knowing Any second the roof might come crashing Down on us. After it passed, We crawled out one at a time, shivering Into the cool moonlight, and all We could see was ourselves Standing there naked, and alive.

 
 
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