Editor’s Note: Anna Leahy was on the inaugural Editorial Board of Redux.
~This poem previously appeared in Rhino (2003).
Hill Correctional Center, 1991
The boys huddle on the playground,
whistle and play kickball like inmates trading
cigarettes—one with his lips
threaded together and him not saying
but listening to all he can think of now,
and another’s stare like someone
who knows it is twenty-four hours from
here to there, there to here,
like a soldier remembering limbs,
and the variety of ways they laugh and touch
to distinguish and rank themselves—
and their hands, all their hands
like my hands, simple, almost indistinguishable
like rosary beads and their repeated prayers,
even the small shiny space between
the Our Father and the Hail Mary:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever
shall be, world without end.
I know of their uniforms—light
blue shirts, dark blue trousers, repeated wear,
a way to equalize with fabric
the rich kid and the poor kid,
the straight-A student and the one
who was left behind like the sixteen-year-old
who tried to kiss me,
put his big hands on me,
the way it made me feel, the forgetting
of the prayer—O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended thee
and I detest all my sins—the need
to revise later, the rapist and the carpenter
and the murderer and the altar boy, all the same,
just look. What else can you do
when the priest asks you
to hit him to help him
atone for his sins and be forgiven
but pick up the sturdy two-by-four
or that shiny chain with the nails
and swing away?
~This poem previously appeared in Cimarron Review (Winter 2001).
We halved sheep’s eyes and hearts,
sliced frogs and pinned their skins down--
female frogs with tiny, black eggs
scooped gently from their bellies
and males frogs--and animal parts
with no sex, no attachment
to a particular body. Remember the walk
to the boys’ school, the blood taken
from fingers, our cat spread on the slate table,
its eyes closed and its mouth open,
teeth exposed and tongue rippled slightly,
curled up at the tip as if to pant.
With its limbs stretched and tied, reaching,
I cut precisely as if it were a delicate, important
process, an art with short knives and scissors,
from jaw to rectum and then across,
top and bottom, so the dull-gray underside
of the skin could be pulled away and opened
like the frog, like shutters on a window.
Once I had first split the hole under the jaw,
all the rest was easy:
the mesentery, the complicated
blood vessels, the pericardium,
the heart itself a solid orb,
the esophagus and intestines like ropework,
the liver, the kidneys, the womb.
Most dissection cats are female,
often pregnant with three or four fetuses,
extra specimens, examples of development,
of what happens when and how things begin.
Best to be put down before the birthing,
before there are more mouths to feed,
more cats to kill. Best
to preserve them, put them
in plastic bags, ship them
to students who cut cats open
to learn about themselves, their own complicated
blood vessels, their own stomachs,
their livers and kidneys and muscles and bones,
my own heart and womb
revealed with a few proper slices
and the willingness to keep cutting.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“Recidivism” emerged when my poet-friend Nancy Kuhl heard me say the word recidivism and challenged me to write a poem with that title. I taught writing at Hill Correctional Center for one semester, so I combined some of those memories with my memories of being a student at a Catholic elementary school. The inmates and my earlier classmates really did wear the same uniform of dark blue pants and light blue shirts.
“Anatomy Class” draws from memories of my senior year of high school at Sacred Heart Academy, when I took a physiology class at the adjacent boys’ school. The course’s big project was cat dissection. What I remember most is that the handful of girls in the class were far less squeamish than most of the boys.
ABOUT ANNA LEAHY
Anna Leahy’s Constituents of Matter won the Wick Poetry Prize. Her poems and creative nonfiction appear in journals such as Crab Orchard Review, Cream City Review, The Pinch, The Southern Review, and others. She directs Tabula Poetica: The Center for Poetry at Chapman University and co-writes Lofty Ambitions blog at http://loftyambitions.wordpress.com.