Four Poems

by Cathryn Hankla

Slavish Devotion

Each Sunday with the snips
A tin pail half of water
Half of garden blooms

I following, following
The motions of the elders, the aunts
Who never matriculated from home

At the cemetery they knew just where they
Were going, straight to the mausoleum
Wall, where their names were already

Engraved, an open date
With the eternal
There they threw out the putrid water

The shriveled flowers and greenery
Restocked the bronze vase
And told me stories

Of the ancestors
Who lived in the wall
The grandfather

I never knew, whose heart gave out
The grandmother
I had not seen except in a sick bed

She was their stepmother
The one who raised them
Their tone was reverential

And sometimes they cried
If you had asked me what we worshiped, then
I would have said “Grandmother”

Not any god or god’s son
Whose most important moments
Were spent dying


I cripple some ants.
I don’t mean to, but I do.
Others I squash flat
Leaving one liquid dot
Beneath each creature
Like a wandering third eye,
A floating caste mark.

I fear ants in my food.
They terrorize with quizzical
Patterns, tiny hammers,
Wood screws. They invite
Free-loaders to freckle my floors,
Doorways, drains,
Banana skins, bare toes.

I slip ten corpora delicti
Into a business envelope,
Bless them, seal their paper
Tomb with kisses, tiny and wet,
Iron the paste with my fist,
Address it to
What doesn’t return.


The possibility of saying something becomes more difficult.
The urgency
Of saying nothing rings the ears. Moving
Is definitely an option, while the tendency to back-pedal
Must be considered of necessity.
Whose child used to be Invention. Now bears
Roam our backyards.
In our barbecue pits we sift no ashes, no sooty remnants
Of Christian Inspiration.
Designer coals flavor the gas,
Smoky and delicious. Some prefer surreal yet unremarkable
Buffalo. None speak of ostrich.
It was supposed
To be my last questioning moment, my final
Nod up
The wrong family tree. Some call it Natural Extinction.
If you can whiz
On the tender tiger lily shoots the deer won’t eat them.
My father called it hocus-pocus.
Before you could say Jack Rabbit, a hole opened beneath us,
Beneath our heart of pine
Floor, just polished. A rectangle devoid of… a sucking Grand
Canyon of a…
A sink-hole, a sieve. Much like a giant colander not catching
The spaghetti. You bet.
The sound effects alone (!) were nothing if not
So, okay, I admit it, you were kind of dressed wrong
For the occasion,
Tux with grandfather’s insignia cufflinks. So what if nobody
Asked me.
Seven ants and counting. The ninth took the high road,
Gingerly exploring
The kitchen ceiling as you found the newspaper
And started rolling.

Famous Brains

There’s something I have to tell you. Sorry,
I said,
But I do. It won’t take forever, but it’s important.
Don’t worry,
You said.
The Osage orange trees will bloom a certain

Blop of brain-like fruit and drop it
All along this path come October.
You’ll just be walking, but your course
Will alter. I opened my mouth.
October, you said. Lime green. Trust me.
Did you know

There’s a brain bank with famous
Right hemispheres preserved in
Formaldehyde? I asked.
And a freezer room full of slices?
Whose? You asked.
Finally, I had your attention.