Casualties of War
My brother and I tattooed
the naked G.I. Joe
with magic marker,
unhooked limbs and head
from his sexless torso
and buried him in pieces
all over the yard.
We had nothing
against him. It was time
to put him down is all,
to stop playing with dolls.
We were soldiers ourselves,
and hunters and spies and…
Those years, our father
was three tours overseas.
When he’d return home,
we were in his crosshairs,
our every movement suspect.
Blink and we’re strangers,
doing strange things.
The Last Picnic
It’s a bad sign when search dogs
are kenneled and the dive team arrives.
They’re strapping on tanks, headlamps
over there where the pastor parked
three hours ago. Imagine
praying for broken bones,
from which a child might be saved.
It was the end-of-summer picnic.
Paper plates laden with wings,
potato salad, deviled eggs.
Beach towels on the railing,
flip flops scattered and lost.
Who needs more ice tea?
Go call your brother…
Well, who saw him last?
At the edge of the dock, sun
sparkles in the water, fish
dart just below the surface.
His face reflects back at him
as he leans over, hands pressed
to slippery knees. Always before
his dad held him aloft, dipping him
to his shoulders, no deeper.
The divers slip into the lake,
leave behind his shouted name.
Only the sound of breath now
where water deepens, grows dark.
Glimpse of fabric, hair waving, skin.
They hoist him by his shoulders.
In water, he is weightless—
grows heavy as they pass him
up the muddy bank to daylight.
My Father Called the Mourning Doves
and I thought they answered him.
Sitting at the kitchen table
beside a screened window,
humid Virginia summers,
the fan thrumming and clicking
in its rounds. Didn’t he show me
a thousand times how to cup
my hands just so, to blow
through the space at the base
of the thumbs, to press together
my fingers and wave them quick,
as one, to make the sad echo
that all the mourning doves
all around heard, and hearkened to?
Didn’t the sky fill then
with the song of mourning doves
calling to my father?
Nature Craft for Girls
A woodpecker’s hammering made her look up
from the coloring book and crayons spread
on the porch glider: hunks of bark spraying
like buck shot into brambles soon to be lush
with blackberries. She saw a fox pounce
at the verge of the pasture and tore off after it.
The day was cool spring and spangled with light,
leaves scudding across the path into the woods
and everywhere birds chattering, weaving nests.
The girl squinted at a doe stepping through poplars,
and guessed that nearby, a fawn held still
in a moss-lined hollow, odorless as bone.
She was a wolf chieftain, a bow hunter;
she fended off wild boar with her wits.
She was lost. She knew to follow deer paths
to the creek, and it was there the sheriff
and bloodhound found her long past nightfall
holed up in the spreading roots of a sycamore
under a blanket of cut pine, watching wind toss
tree tops, and singing at the top of her lungs.
Habit of Silence
My family never went to the movies or to carnivals—
no surround-sound or gaudy lights and clowns for us.
We took long hikes, or drives when the rain poured down.
We were quiet enough to walk noiselessly through the woods, quiet
enough to hear church bells in the valleys, the hoot of an owl
yearning for an answer, the sound of our breath, thud of pulse.
We trod stone steps green and slick with moss where paths
shouldered their way down dark ravines to laurel-edged pools.
We picnicked summer and winter, wringing sweat from socks
or blowing across the surface of tea in blistering metal cups.
Nightfall was the ticking of a campfire embering down.
Lying on my back in the dark tent, I would suspend my blanket
above me, hold its four corners with hands and feet, then release
it all at once to parachute and settle over my body’s landscape
where wind shushes down hillsides, whispers in hollows.
Coming Back to Haunt Them
Every Memorial Day weekend
the firemen’s bar-b-que spread out
along the banks of Rye Creek, wide
and deep with mountain runoff.
I never figured out who did it or how,
everyone taking credit the way they did
for the raccoon chained to a log
floating in the middle. It would pace,
worry its collar and hiss. The winning hound
was the one who managed to lope-swim
out there and knock the sow off the log.
Most years there was no winner at all.
The hounds came whining back to shore, tender
noses raked by the same delicate paws
that could pluck a single egg from a robin’s nest
and cart it back to a hungry brood.
At night, the coon hunters startle in their sleep
and reach for their wives, imagine an armed
and masked intruder lurking on the porch—
nursing a grudge, hatching a crazy plan.
Nancy Allen is a poet, criminal defense attorney, and yoga teacher living in Lynchburg, VA. Her poems have been published in the Tar River Review, Piedmont Virginian Magazine, and the Sow’s Ear Review, and she has won awards in the annual contest of the Poetry Society of Virginia.