is the little whisper, the aggregate sorrow, the father’s
heavy weeping as the son’s heavy weeping. What I hear
is your artistic response after the massacre, the family
of clasped hands, Black hands, Brown hands, a small child
whose brother never had a chance, who holds her father’s
tearful face and says, “Your eyes are like the moon,” is
what I hear when I hear you in my head this evening,
your laughter like tiny harps. I hear your fatigue as
another way to say: deprivation. I hear recount, re-tally,
a retaliation is what I hear when I hear you in my head
is the grace, the charm, the dead, the boy, the dead boy,
the boy who died because of the fear, the forest in
the other man’s heart, the gun, the heartbreak is the sound
I hear when I hear you in my head is how we each sigh
with distinction, where fatigue meets fire, where we wake
and wonder: if we all go out to a field tonight, sit by a fire,
say the most honest thing you have ever said in your life,
would any dead boy or girl reappear, not like a mirage
but reappear, not like a voice in my head but a body
in this room, with flesh and bones, with his big smile,
orange blossoms in his billowing hair?
Invisible birds shocked out of the trees
and you mistake them for children
on the playground, or you mistake the leaves
cracked underfoot for the children’s hush
or broken glass. It’s a maelstrom.
At the Winter Program, the second graders
sing “Let It Snow” and the parents clasp
their hands, half exhale, half prayer.
The children sing in your town and you
think of the children in the shattered town.
All that comes to you is their hearts, heaven,
hell, and the next kind word you will say to a boy.
The in-flight magazine crossword partially done,
a corner begun here, scratched out answers there,
one set of answers in pencil, another in the green.
The woman with the green ball point knew
the all-time hit king is Rose and the Siem Reap
treasure is Angkor Wat. The woman, perhaps
en route to hold her dying mother’s hand in Seattle,
forgot about death for ten minutes while remembering
husband’s Cincinnati Reds hat while gardening after
the diagnosis. Her handwriting was so clean. Maybe
she was a surgeon. Maybe a painter. No. What painter
wouldn’t know 17 down, Diego’s love, five letters?
In a rush, her dying mother’s voice came back
to her, or maybe she was a Chinese adoptee
and her first mother’s imagined voice said, wo ai ni.
At 30,000 feet, you focus on 33 across, Asian
American classic, The Woman ____,
when a stranger in the window seat sees the clue,
watches me write in W, and she says Warrior.
She grazes your hand with hers, then moves
her leg closer so that the outside of her left thigh
touches the outside of your right one, and for
a moment you forget it is your favorite memoir,
and she reminds you, her thigh against yours,
of lilies or roses, Van Gogh or stems with thorns,
art galleries in romantic cities where she is headed
but you should not go. The flight attendant grazes
my shoulder. The crossword squares, the letters,
the chairs and aisles seem so tight in flight,
but there is nothing here but room, really.
Maybe the next passenger will know
what I do not: 64 down, five letters, Purpose.
And why do we remember what we do? We know
the buzz of Dickinson’s fly and the number of years
in Marquez’s solitude, but some things we will never
know, as it should be: why the body sometimes rumbles
like a plane hurtling over southern Oregon, how
exactly we fall in love, or if Frida and Maxine
Hong Kingston would have loved the same kind of tea.
Lee Herrick is the the author of two books, Gardening Secrets of the Dead and This Many Miles from Desire. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines, anthologies, and college textbooks, including The Bloomsbury Review, ZYZZYVA, Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd edition, Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, and Visions Across the Americas, 8th edition, among others. Born in Daejeon, South Korea and adopted at ten months, he lives in Fresno, California, where he serves as Fresno Poet Laureate (2015-2017) and teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College. @leeherrick