:: Article

Three Poems

By Lauren Henley

The Worst

I am four years old, I am not a boy,
I am my father’s only child, and he is coaching me to kill.

Coffee cans perched on a fence in the desert.
More than anything they look like wingless rusted birds.

“They are bad guys,” he says, pointing at our targets,
“and you are home alone.”

No, I think,
those are coffee cans.

“The one in the middle,” he insists,
“that one is a killer.”

And I am turning coffee cans
into wingless birds

into a bad man with many faces
who later on I’ll meet

in a parking lot
when he chases me to my door

and later he’ll be the old clerk
selling Lucky Strikes and Soju

then the guy from high school
who finds me when I’m a well

of water at my lowest and despite
the little fact that I don’t love him

we’ll get married and divorced
and later he’ll be the lump in my breast

a branch in the street
the failed breaks in my car

he’ll be the day my heart doesn’t work
and family gathers in the hall.

But right now I am small,
the pistol is small and

the pistol will jerk.
How can my father know my heart?

I am distracted by something shiny
in the dirt; for a moment I forget the worst.

My first crystal-
the size of a tooth.

“Steady,” my father says.
“Now shoot.”


At the Gym

From the elliptical machine where I race against
other non-athletes on a non-progressing lane,
I can see into a bright room of people
who seem to move under a spell of bliss,
as if each stretch of this limb or that one
is done in the warmth of the womb
and each effort makes them grow.
I can see the smooth, freckled scalps of the elderly,
the decorated casts of the athletes,
the arcs of question-marked spines,
the glint of metal on slings under the beatific rays
of expensive track lighting.
Whatever this guild is, I’m not sure if I want in.
The curtains keep me from really seeing their faces,
but I imagine what one might feel
if taking the first steps of a walk after fifteen years
curled in a wooden box, the relearning
foot bones must do,
the forgotten dialogue between brain and toe.
There is also the helper,
one large man at the front of the room
lifting his arms real slow
as if making the oceans rise, the dolphins to loom,
then sink back again.
He’s wearing a tight black tank top, his ponytail
sways as he demonstrates how to raise the arms,
how to breathe, how to do both at once.
Then he lies on the floor like an overturned beetle
with tattooed calves and dotted socks,
and the people turn themselves over so sweetly
as if today were their birthdays
and this gesture their finest gift.
Watching all this,
I’m sweating, my headphones playing Miles Davis,
and I think the injured people would like it,
they would lay on their backs pretending they had trumpets,
feeling like co-creators in the Birth of the Cool,
and this way I could give them a present too,
just to say that I see them,
that I’ve cared enough to watch from another room,
that I’m sorry for what has hurt them
that I might one day join in, the difference between us
sheer curtains.


Say It To My Face

I don’t listen to other conversations at the coffee shop
because I care what the mousy girl-in-the-corner fears
or the couch guy hates
or care about the sciatic lady’s complaints
in between bites of her multi-grain bagel.

I listen because I have symmetrical
channels dug in the densest bone I possess,
and sound waves churn over the filaments
like wind over fields of wheat.
And for that mastermind architecture of rooms, tubes,

and pools I am grateful, since I don’t trust people
in public. One reason I listen hard
is to hear those who are trying not to be heard,
who would sneak up with a shoelace, a piano wire,
a Spanish execution stick…

Because you never know if mousy forgot her pills
the morning after a long night hiding out,
her boyfriend Jimmy’s “grow scene”
busted by the feds,
and she’d told him it would happen, god damn it,

and he scolds her for talking so loud in a public place,
but she can’t hurt him cause he’s got the money,
and besides who will comfort her later.
So she figures she can unleash some narcissistic rage
on the female with the small ears

and glasses (that’s me)
and because of delusions Mousy thinks everything she does
is for the greater good, even the rage-induced shoe-string
garroting of an innocent, albeit judgmental,
young grad, and that the café will applaud Mousy’s crime,

clapping at the outburst, which must surely be performance art:
some bold statement no one computes
but is too polite to contend,
but man-oh-man their cosmic eggs have been cracked.
Ta-dah! Death.

Even if you’re not into self-preservation, it’s good to have ears.
They’re a great place to hang your metal bars, hooks,
and daggers. Martha Stewart could do a segment about the utilitarian
aspect of ears: store your cotton balls, Q-Tips
addresses and more, make them into Easter Baskets,

five Jelly Beans apiece, topped with plastic grass.
Use them as inboxes instead of email accounts,
fortune cookies with notes like, Good things are happening or
Buy milk or You suck or
Take me out or You gave me herpes. Better than e-cards. Better

than text messages. Ears
are good for so many things. Don’t get me started
about the usefulness of ears.
Hey, Guy-taking-up-half-the-couch, hey let’s you and me
dress the couch as a dragon, let us delusion

to the hilltop above this small town,
let us burn a message in the hillside with our dragon flame:
Hello World, sweet World, you gonna say something?
Say it to my face.
And when the townspeople don’t fetch
their buckets and hoses, don’t even put down

their coffees to investigate the smoke plumes,
I’ll put my little right ear to the ground
and hear what the animals say about humans,
hear them say the hill is burning,
hear them say they’re going elsewhere.


Lauren Henley is a graduate student at Pacific University of Oregon, in the low-residency MFA program. Her work has appeared or is forth coming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Eclectica, White Pelican, Projector Magazine, WORK, Breadcrumb Scabs, Cloudbank, The Delinquent, and others. When not writing, she works as a reluctant high school substitute teacher and joyfully plays with her dog, hikes, and creates art.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, January 6th, 2011.