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Allison Adelle Hedge Coke has been an invitational performer in international poetry festivals in Medellin, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Canada, and Jordan and foreign professional in poetry and writing for Shandong University in Wei Hai, China. She is a Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, MacDowell Colony for Artists, Black Earth Institute Think Tank, Hawthornden Castle, and Center for Great Plains Research Fellow, is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Visiting Professor at Hartwick College, and holds the Distinguished Paul W. Reynolds and Clarice Kingston Reynolds Endowed Chair in Poetry as an Associate Professor of Poetry and Writing at the University of Nebraska, Kearney, where she directs the Reynolds Reading Series and Sandhill Crane Migration Tribute Retreat. She is core faculty in the University of Nebraska MFA Program and Faulty of the MFA Intensive Program at University of California, Palm Desert, and a 2008 Paul Hanly Furfey Endowed Lecturer. Her books include: Dog Road Woman, American Book Award, Coffee House Press, 1997; The Year of the Rat, chapbook, Grimes Press, 2000; Rock Ghost, Willow, Deer, AIROS Book-of-the-Month, University of Nebraska Press, 2004; Off-Season City Pipe, Wordcraft Writer of the Year for Poetry, Coffee House Press, 2005; Blood Run, Wordcraft Writer of the Year for Poetry, Salt Publications, UK 2006-US 2007; To Topos Ahani: Indigenous American Poetry, Journal Issue of the Year Award (ed.), Oregon State University, 2007; and Effigies, (ed.), Salt Publications, 2009. She has edited five other volumes. Her long poem "The Year of the Rat" is currently being made into a ballet through collaboration with Brent Michael Davids, Mohican Composer. Recent literary publications include Connecticut Review, Prometeo Memories, Akashic Books, and Black Renaissance Noire. Recent photography publications include Connecticut Review, Future Earth Magazine, and Digital Poetics. She has also authored a full-length play Icicles, numerous monologues, and has worked in theater, television, radio, and film. A. A. Hedge Coke has been awarded several state and regional artistic and literary grants, fellowships, and state representational tours; multiple excellence in teaching awards (including the King Chavez Parks Faculty Award); a Sioux Falls Mayor's Award for Literary Excellence; a National Mentor of the Year Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Award; has served on several state, grassroots community, and national boards in the arts, as a writer in the schools in several states, and has held an community advocate position on a city housing board. She additionally served as a Delegate in the United Nations Women in Peacemaking Conference at the Joan B. Kroc Center for Peace and Justice and as a United Nations Presenting Speaker (with James Thomas Stevens, Mohawk Poet), a Facilitator and Speaker Nominator for the only Indigenous Literature Panel of the Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Forum of the United Nations. For many years, she has worked with incarcerated and underserved Indigenous youth and youth of color mentorship programs and served as a court official in Indian youth advocacy and CASA. Hedge Coke has edited five additional collections and is editing two book series of emerging Indigenous writing (for Red Hen Press and Salt Publications). She is Huron and Cherokee descent, French Canadian and Portuguese descent, and came of age cropping tobacco and working in factories.

When The Animals Leave This Place
English version

When The Animals Leave This Place

For Bob Hedge Coke

Underneath ice caps, glacial peaks
deer, elk, vixen begin to ascend.
Wild creatures camouflaged as
waves and waves receding

from plains pulling

upward slopes and snow dusted mountains.
On spotted and clearcut hills robbed of fir,
high above wheat-tapestried valleys, flood plains
up where head waters reside.

Droplets pound, listen.

Hoofed and pawed mammals
pawing and hoofing themselves up, up.
Along rivers dammed by chocolate beavers,
trailed by salamanders-mud puppies.

Plunging through currents,
above concrete and steel man-made barriers

these populations of forests flee
in such frenzy, popping splash dance,
pillaging cattail zones, lashing lily pads—
the breath of life in muddy ponds and still lakes.

Liquid beads slide on windshield glass

along cracked and shattered pane,
spider-like with webs and prisms.
Look, there, the rainbow
touched the ground both ends down.

Full arch, seven colors showered, heed
what the indigenous know,
why long ago they said people didn’t belong here,
that this land was meant to be wet with waters
not fertile to crops and domestic grazing.

The old ones said,

When the animals leave this place
the waters will come again.
This power is beyond the strength of man.
The river will return with its greatest force.

No one can stop her.
She was meant to be this way.

The rainbow tied with red and green like
that on petal rose, though only momentarily.
Colors disappear like print photograph fading.
They mix with dark grey surrounding.

A flurry of fowl follow

like strands, maidenhair falls,
from blackened clouds above
swarming inward
covering the basin and raising sky.

Darkness hangs over

the hills appear as black water crests,
blackness varying shades.
The sun is somewhere farther than the farthest ridge.
Main gravel crossroads and back back roads

slicken to mud, clay.
Turtles creep along rising banks, snapping jowls.

Frogs chug throaty songs.
The frogs only part of immense choir
heralding the downpour, the falling oceans.
Over the train trestle and suspension bridge with

current so slick everything slides off in sheets.

Among rotten stumps in dark bass ponds,
catfish reel in fins and crawl,
walking whiskers to higher waters.
Waters above and below

the choir calling it forth.

Brightly plumed jays and dull brown-headed cowbirds
fly as if hung in one place like pinwheels.
They dance toward the rain crest,
the approaching storm

beckoning, inviting, summoning.

A single sparrow sings the stroke of rain
past the strength of sunlight.
The frog chorus sings refrain,
melody drumming thunder,

evoked by beasts and water creatures wanting their homes.
Wanting to return to clearings and streams where
white birch woods rise and tower over
and quaking aspen stand against
dark, dark veils-sheeting rains crossing

pasture, meadow, mountain.
Sounds erupt.
Gathering clouds converge, push,
pull, push, pull forcing lightning

back and forth shaping
windy, sculptured swans, mallard ducks, and giants
from stratocumulus media.
As if they are a living cloud chamber,
As if they exist only in the heavens.

Air swells with dampness.
It has begun.

Reprinted with permission From Blood Run, Salt Publications, 2006.
Editor's Choice, Abiko Quarterly, Cid Corman.
#4 Southwest Chief/LA Central
English version

#4 Southwest Chief/LA Central

For Derya and Heid

The sheen of incandescent lamppost light travels this rail,
up ahead the Conductor
reminds us, if there’s anything
we can do to make your trip worthless just let us know
and no one cracks a smile.

This Amtrak car glides between
concrete pillars wrapped with steel for quake protection.
Projects plastered in graffiti by day now sink into 9: 00 p.m.
this time of night you’d think they were condos

if you rode this rail for the first time.

What I see is concertina riding chain link fence tops—
as if there is an escape attempt due any moment.

Then, somehow, I see myself in the window. Not a reflection
but an actual replica looking back at me and at the glare,
over further than a bounce of light could flash, where
planes coming in to land look like falling stars,

and I’m taking my mother to the asylum in my memory.
I can still hear her saying, bad, bad girl and look
at the pretty stars and Christmas lights sometime late July.

L.A. River on my left, tonight there’s water more than trickle down.
Along the concrete banks where someone wrote out: RECKLESS

a concrete mixer is parked right by the river and rail,
and one single truck has its lights on bright.

By morning, jump-starts will cardiac it back to life.

My gut aches. The whole world’s in a window at Fullerton and
through arches, past electric globes, it spins
high over a Pepsi machine on the floor far below.

Bad, bad girl. Look at the pretty stars and Christmas lights.

Reprinted with permission from Off-Season City Pipe,
Coffee House Press, 2005. Original Magazine Publication
in The Santa Barbara Review.
The Change
English version

The Change

For The Sharecropper I Left Behind in '79

Thirteen years ago,     before bulk barns     and

fifth gear diesel tractors,     we rode royal blue tractors with

tool boxes big enough     to hold a six pack on ice.

In the one hundred, fifteen degree     summer

heat     with air     so thick with moisture

you drink as you breathe.

Before the year dusters sprayed

Malathion over our clustered bodies,     perspiring

while we primed bottom lugs,

those ground level leaves of tobacco,

and it clung to us with black tar so sticky we rolled

eight inch balls off our arms at night     and

Cloroxed our clothes for hours and hours.

Before we were poisoned     and

the hospital thought we had been burned in fires,

at least to the third degree,

when the raw, oozing, hives that

covered ninety-eight percent of our bodies

from the sprays ordered by the FDA

and spread by     landowners,

before anyone had seen

automated machines that top and prime.

While we topped the lavender

blooms of many tiny flowers

gathered into one,     gorgeous.

By grasping hold below the petals

with our bare, calloused, hands

and twisting downward, quick, hard,

only one time,     snapped them off.

Before edgers and herbicides took

what they     call weeds,

when we walked for days

through thirty acres     and

chopped them out with hoes.

Hoes,     made long before     from wood and steel

and sometimes (even longer ago)

from wood and deer scapula.

Before the bulk primers came

and we primed all the leaves by hand,

stooped over at the waist for the

lower ones     and     through the season

gradually     rising higher     until     we stood

and worked simultaneously,

as married to the fields as we were to each other,

carrying up to fifty pounds of fresh

leaves under each arm     and     sewing them onto

sticks four feet long on a looper

under the shade of a tin-roofed barn,     made of shingle,

and poking it up through the rafters inside

to be caught by a hanger     who

poked it up higher in the rafters     to another

who held a higher position

and     so     they filled the barn.

And the leaves hung down

like butterfly wings,     though

sometimes the color of

luna moths,     or Carolina parakeets,     when just

an hour ago     they had been

laid upon     the old wooden

cart trailers pulled behind

the orange Allis-Chalmers tractor

with huge, round fenders and only

a screwdriver and salt in the tool box,

picked by primers     so hot

we would race through the rows

to reach the twenty-five gallon

jugs of water placed throughout

the field to encourage     and     in attempt to

satisfy our insatiable thirsts

from drinking air     which poured

through our pores without breaking

through to our need     for more

water     in the sun.

Sun we imagined to disappear

yet respected     for growing all things on earth

when quenched with rains called forth

by our song     and drumming.

Leaves, which weeks later,     would be

taken down and the strings pulled

like string on top of a large dog food bag

and sheeted up into burlap sheets

that bundled over a hundred pounds

when we smashed down with our feet,

but gently smashing,

then thrown up high     to

a catcher     on a big clapboard trailer

pulled behind two ton trucks and

taken to market in Fuquay-Varina

and sold to Philip Morris     and

Winston-Salem     for around     a buck a pound.

Leaves cured to a bright leaf,

a golden yellow with the strongest

aroma of tobacco barn curing

and hand grown quality

before the encroachment of

big business in the Reagan era

and the slow murder of method

from a hundred years before.

When the loons cried out in

laughter by the springs and

the bass popped the surface on

the pond, early on, next to

the fields, before that time

when it was unfashionable to

transplant each individual baby plant,

the infant tobacco we nurtured, to

transplant those seedlings to each hill

in the field, the space for that particular plant

and we watched     as     they would grow.

Before all of this new age, new way,

I was a sharecropper in Willow Springs, North Carolina

as were you     and we were proud to be Tsa la gi

wishing for winter     so we could make camp

at Qualla Boundary     and Oconaluftee

would be free of tourists and filled with snow

and those of us who held out forever

and had no CIBs would be home again

with our people, while the BIA forgot to watch.

When we still remembered before even the Europeans,

working now shoulder to shoulder with descendants

of their slaves they brought from Africa

when they sold our ancestors as slaves into the Middle East,

that then the tobacco was sacred to all of us and we

prayed whenever we smoked and

did not smoke for pleasure     and

I     was content and free.

Then they came and changed things

and you left me for a fancy white girl

and I waited on the land

until you brought her back

in that brand new white Trans Am,

purchased from our crop,     you gave her

and left her waiting in a motel,

the nearest one was forty miles away,

but     near enough     for you

and     for her     and I knew     though

I never spoke a word to you

about it,     I knew and I kept it to

myself     to this day     and time     and

I never let on

until I left     on our anniversary.

I drove the pick-up

down the dirt path     by the empty fields

and rented a shack for eighty dollars,

the one with cardboard windows

and a Gillespie house floor design,

with torn and faded floral paper on walls

and linoleum so thin over rotted board

that the floor gave if you weighed over

a hundred pounds,     I did not.

And with no running water of any kind,     or bathroom.

The one at hilltop,     where I could

see out across all the fields

and hunt for meat when I wanted

and find peace.

I heard you remarried

and went into automated farming

and kept up with America.

I watched all of you     from the hill

and I waited for the lavender blooms

to return     and when it was spring

even the blooms     had turned white.

I rolled up my bedroll,     remembering before,

when the fields were like waves on a green ocean,

and turned away,     away from the change

and corruption     of big business on small farms

of traditional agricultural people,     and sharecroppers.

Away,     so that I could always     hold this concise image

of before     that     time     and it

floods     my memory.

Reprinted with permission from Dog Road Woman by Allison Adelle
Hedge Coke. Copyright © 1997 by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke.
Published by Coffee House Press. 1st US Reprint, Reinventing the
Enemy’s Language, Norton. Original Magazine Publication in Caliban.
The Year of the Rat
English version

The Year of the Rat

bu-bon-ic plague: a contagious disease characterized
by buboes, fever, and delirium

for days sirens hurl winding shrieks
bubble lights flashing      red     yellow     red
yellow     white     linen
sheets     no,     drapery
rises and settles on
the feet     no, the
hands are pulling it
back again     “can you
hear     us”     they say and
scurry on down the shaolin passageways
the tunnels, or catacombs she lies in
stretch 105 mercury degree rising measure
quicksilver following break
cascading and soaring
could have reached 108
no one knows
faces,     fingers, reappear
pumping machinery
struggling writhing throughout stomach, throat,
eyebrows knitted, pursing lips
blood-drained pallor cheeks they
push and force
tug and pull away plastics
snapping eyes, heels part
fading far farther
white     the tunnels open wide
haunting dark red caverns tiny
obsidian chip eyes peeking through
the watchers     those without fear of man
I can only spectate as
she slips into     recall

dancers     on toe chaotic climax
extremities held in tight circles
bent elbow, dainty toes, black-gray claws
ears slicked back like
a scorned, angered mare
whiskers gleam, tails streaming along to
the dance     the dance
the Mardi Gras
the Coup d’état
the Marathon
They Shoot Horses Don’t They?
their bodies wrapped in fur as if they
should be dressed, primped, combed
frenzy filled they     touch lightly     almost
a ballet, or tap, no, free
dance     they are free
from restraints
from being minor mammal
suddenly they huddle
gangly approach to center
like a sneak-up dance
exchanging excitement
they plan,     this is no instinct,
they prepare, premeditate
mutinous recapture of the den
those tunnels outside,     they
were not built by     hares     the
urine odor was not left by infants
dancers left this trace
to forewarn intruders

a single mother, newborn, and infant,
move in escaping her pistol-wielding spouse
lucky to be alive     she tells herself
paying the burly biker landlord
every     dollar she saved
for their escape,     battered, bruised,
splintered dreams,     she cradles both
babies climbing into the green
hand-painted slat board crib
nurses one gives a cracker
to the other

marching onto the so-called shelter
they appear through every
hole in ceiling, wall, and floor
a double dozen, or more,
they make their way into
the rooms     leaping with ease
their foot and foot and a half
from nose to tip of tail     lengths
lumbering onto shelves,
formica counters,     the one antique
dresser riddled with wormholes,
teeth gnaw continuously     turning
solid matter to Swiss cheese in the
den, the sheetmetal mobile home

the mother covers the sleeping
innocents     she clutches an empty     2-liter glass
Coke bottle in the right hand
and iron claw hammer with rough, splintered
wooden handle     in the left     she
tells the pack, the herd, the congregation
these are her children
she says this with her eyes
she wedges herself into the corner of the crib
staying guard through
weary length of night, she
swings on occasion when
one ventures close—range
hoping to take a finger as
the lost child from Birdtown lost toes
to these     years ago     gnawing, growing
teeth     in hopes of taking
the taste of milk
from sleeping baby lips
she connects at least twice each night
she never sleeps
the nightmares allow the rulers victory
dragging bones, her children’s, from their teeth
like game trophies to be hung below floors
she dozes midday     in the
car with no gas and no floorboard
her babies tied to her
she never sets them down

“They are like tigers” her
dad told her “never corner them,
they become as panthers
as Bengals” he told her long ago
she wishes he had a
phone     or that she had one
to get a message to him
that he was right     that they
are here to prey on the
living, larger mammals     man
she remembers her mother’s screams
at walls and stove ventilation
raving conversation with tormentors
no one else could see
and leaving at thirteen
her brother pounding her face
with fists and pool balls
his favorite hobby
her father hard at work every day
as if he could work away the madness
her sister fleeing six weeks before
packing one suitcase as if it were an overnight
remembering the way she said
“when they dance, they have it”
she knows this true firsthand,
she observes performance
the ritual
it terrifies her
the dance, the dance, bounding, leaping closer
here. she defends the trench of trailer,
the foxhole crib they lie in
while the rulers plan strategies
and taunt her

amazed at their aggressiveness
she wishes for a gun,
or knife,     a better implement
to fight with during this
night they are especially
close     the light,     that one
single line,     precise between earth
and sky     both pitch
that clear blue white line appears
to break day,     crows caw
outside     the owls     make roosting sounds
the watchers chew and twitch before
jumping to floor, scattering
to holes and scampering out of light
into the ground     tunnels
into the underground
the den beneath this floor
like vampires retiring to mausoleums
to choreograph the “ring around the rosy”
for the new dusk to come
den of daytime
they sink into tunnels
like bats     in daylight
with the same ammonia-filled stench

the young mother
closes her eyelids momentarily
only to seal them slightly
the pull so taut
black rings below     she
slides over the crib railing
releasing bottle and club     no,
hammer     she thought it
a club     wish splitting manifestation
she changes babies and feeds
them     all she can
then bundles them
and ties them to herself
her sister once called her a pack-mule
babies cling like koala bear clip-ons
they know nothing of the danger
she raises them from
she wraps a big
towel around the three of them
covering her shoulders
with a faded car coat
they leave the
den     leave the lights on
repelling rodents
in their absence
they walk
the small mother
carrying the full
load of three
kicking stones
along the way
remembering days before
days of war on homefronts
racing from attacks
knowing that for her
there is nowhere safe to run
a single brown sedan
flies by them     on the long
stretch of highway
they amble alongside of
between steps they sigh
the gravel thickens
as they reach the country store
the wooden ramp under her feet
they enter

making way to shelving, hunting
hardware,     holding     careful watch
they locate traps
twelve inches long
she lifts four and then
four again,
lays eight on counter
she pleads for credit writing
promise on colored paper
the owner looks at her
at the traps
looks at her again
spine erect
she loads courage
in her eyes     agreement
reached, she raises the bag
he dropped them into
retrieving items to count
eight     she works up a pressed
curve of lip into slight smile

return, armed
the babies know nothing     she thinks
and tells herself
she’s doing all she
can to take care of them and at
least their father can’t kill her now
she is bigger than these dancers
these new adversaries     these
barons of the earth almost
as ancient as the roach     though
twice as evil
she imagines them
tremendous dragons
and plans masquerading carnival
invitational trap     once
again     inside the den
mobile home

the trailer is decorated in Early American cardboard
she never unpacked on seeing the rats
the tiny woman gathers boxes,     these boxes
she sets in appropriate positions,
vantage points, they secure
at night she places scoops
of commod peanut butter and oil
on the trap’s triggers and pulls
back the springs     tucking in
tongue catch,     setting force,     she lays
them ever so gently     deep inside
corrugated cubes
ripping newspaper
hoarded in her car trunk
to shreds
she gently, ever so
gently     lets the shreds and strips
fall     like crumbs of snow from her fingers
filling entirely the space above
the bottom, center-squared     sharply pulling
back her hand to let them
“lie in peace”
masquerading as nesting
materials     for those who come
at night     for their underworld
home     below her feet
and the crib’s

the sky outside casts
over     deepest gray, telltale coal
clouds surround the meadows     out
in the open
lightning time
the strikes stab sky
bolting toward the metal walls
and roof     she quickly places the
babies into high chairs     the chairs’ legs
safely set into eight decaying
sneakers     four under each chair
the pots and pans
on the steel stove top
dance     from surges
untamed electricity
lights the burners
all four knobs read OFF
over orange-red coils bouncing cookware
the dead motor
in the air conditioner
buzzes, jars and tries to turn over
though when she turned it ON
herself this strain never occurred
light bulbs     hanging exposed from the ceiling
glow brighter with each lightning stroke
charges ignite and leap at times from sockets
the rubber soles of old
shoes     protecting babies     barely
she has done this before
stranded during storms in previous escapes
her husband always found her
as if his sonar hits
were more direct than lightning
the baby caught in everything
then there was one, now there are two
the three a family
by blood and flesh
clap and crash     thunder pounds
sheet walls shimmy
vibrating from pressure and forces living, ruling
eventually the rains join the streaks
and dance in electrical fallout
the drops and sparks fire and

she sweeps the floor
watching the window     the black dung
pellets left overnight flying out the
doorway     day passes like all the
rest     this year     the dancers will
spin years of dreams     night terrors
dark cyclones filled with black eyes
scraping, gnawing, teeth but
that is far into the future
she is here in the now
shadows skip sundial     night
falls as a shade
night shade
night watch
the dancers clamber
out of chambers onto the
porch     out of the sliding glass
doors     she carries the babies
to the bright green crib     and
lulls them to sleep
Indian songs she sings
she cradles them
in her arms until the slumber
is sufficient to last the night
time     she takes the bottle that
glass 2-liter     in her right
and the iron claw hammer
in her left and makes     ready
she catches the dancers bounding
so elegantly, so gracefully
she catches sight
and smell of the

they     watch her as
well     creeping closer together
they huddle tails entwined
they scheme, slink away,
file into formations
taking the walls
floors and ceiling     by storm
combative stances
they laugh her off
through the night she connects
a few again     though they relish
their glory     as kings     she
nothing but a damsel

the largest dancer
a gift from Europeans
a giant from Norway—the
King     he is a tyrant and always
taunting her     this time they
get bored     in this game and leap
showing off their egos inflated
they bound into boxes to
play with shredded stuffing and
quench the desire for
peanut butter
          trigger snaps
tongue catch     and springs     f l y
sending steel     over
backs and     bones     and
fur     four times     then
rear lines     follow     four
more snaps     the others
have no heart for fallen fellows
and continue the taunting closeness
edging     toward     her babies
dodging glass and hammer     claw
the game so merrily played
throughout the hours in this
night     in the long
month of September     this
time she feels some sort of

when crack-light
dawn breaks the still sky
the survivors retreat     she
lifts the first box     the
rodent’s dead weight
makes her sick
even though she
cannot see it through the
shredded papers     still filling
space     covering the body
weight and smell fill her
with fear that it will jump
toward her sight unseen
and lay its fangs into her
skin     she casts the box
at least twenty feet out
the door

she slowly walks
over to inspect its contents
the cadaver lies     back broken
twelve or more inches long
she wants to throw up but
has no time     all the others
sail out into the meadow
because each time she feels
their dead weight her arms
uncontrollably fling boxes
one by one until
eight are spread

hours later she recovers
the shock initial
and begins releasing traps to reset
peanut butter surprise
she washes her hands and
arms     for forty minutes
straight     before caring for
the children, for the day
the children know nothing, they’re so
innocent, they don’t know anything

it is so still, the wind drifting stench
is the only movement     the sky
remains dark, blackest black
gray-tipped lining cloud
boxes, traps, shreds
boxes, traps, shreds
boxes traps, shreds
she commits to the order
front line in corrugated mine field
snap, spring, dancers fall
the flank moves forward

the landlord comes one day
when he arrives she cries     to
him begging for abatement
rent     on the den     he laughs
her off     his ears look like
the king’s—pointed     she steals
serial number from his
work truck to garnish his
wages in court     she will sue
she says     he backhands
her     just as her husband did
so many times before     she
left him in June     paid the
rent three month’s advance
to this wannabee slumlord
single dwelling dictator
this leech of land-
lord-ing     now the winter is
approaching fast     the babies notice
and cry they notice
they are aware
time is running     out

the owner of the store
is surprised to see her
he agrees to take her to town to file
small claims court     in a few weeks
the landlord tells the judge
that the reason the rats came
was because of her housekeeping

“No.     They were already here.”
she says showing pictures of rats in
traps     she drew to scale
the babies crawl around the
courtroom     the people stare
and shake their heads     they judge,
they convict,     they send her to
jail     in their minds     “You Honor,
it’s the truth”     she says and he
allows her to reclaim one hundred dollars
suggesting she “look better
next time you rent” her shoulders
rise and tighten, lips part
salted words dissolve on her tongue
the babies scamper around
till they locate her legs
and climb
up to be held tight.

a singer she knows tells her about
a basement apartment,
fixer-up rental they collapse
into     it smells sweet     they eat and
sleep     night passing     something
scratches and runs     in the
false ceiling     she sees black
eyes     in her mind     she hits
the white, dusty panels
and a possum falls
almost into her arms
she screams, then laughs hysterically

they get a cat, a real mouser
the feline patrols every night
protecting the babies
they sleep on a mattress
no longer in a crib
there are no shadows
from slats on their faces babies
turn into tots and play
she writes songs
gathering random chords
prays to be left alone
and prays not to be lonesome
she falls to sleep writing and smiling
at her children

she dreams
she is in the tunnels of the
rulers     former terrorists     who
was the tenant?
     this question
in dreamscape

her body becomes ridden with pain
sickness so strong
fever shoots so high
nothing can bring it down

five days have passed
amnesia, the sickness reels, she tries to cry
but her lips won’t work
she lies in her own vomit
her hand reaches out with effort
to the silhouette of the younger child
she contacts dry parched skin like old
paper     paper-thin leather, fragile gray
her skin is also gray     she
can see it     the older child
across her feet both children out
cold     dying     or already gone
she cannot move
darkness, quiet silence, death is coming
she smells it and turns away
to turn, to f a l l
to fall to the floor     she crawls
like the babies to the wall     she
cannot reach     the phone
she pushes open the door and falls

out into the cold
the fierce cold of this winter
her fever melts the snow next to
her gray, gray skin     schoolchildren
stumble across her body     and run
for help down the dirt road
they scurry
their mother lifts her into their
wagon     station wagon     they lay
her babies beside her in the back
Is this a hearse?
the clinic doctor will not
allow them within doors     “No way
they are gray, look at them.”
He covers his mouth and face with enormous hands
the strangers drive a hour to a
Public Health Service Hospital
and leave the three behind as they
hurry home for supper

the tiniest on saline intravenous
once he can speak
the biggest child tells the story
of the last five days
he fed the baby     while his mother
lay dying     “I thought she would
died” he says     explaining that after the third day
he couldn’t feed the baby and crawled in with
her     he saw the baby crawl in the fourth day
“I think it was yesterday, dunno”
in another room she is told “They will make it,
you didn’t lose your children.”
“Can you hear us? ”

the tunnels close
in around her the glass beads
black,     those eyes     like size
ten seed beads     glassy, shiny
they watch her, they rule


have witnessed all of this from
far     above this
plague-ridden     room     floating
around     I feel free     enough to



look back at she

once     I suppose was me
too difficult     I decide
and watch a little longer     I slip in above
the babies
I know they need her to come back
delirious she yells “What’s the cover routine? ”
those hands slip a needle
to vein     she jerks     I jerk
with     her     and reclaim     the body

while the mind encounters steely eyes


plague dreams,     reality
leaping,     flying,     scampering
gnawing innocents
good healthy bodies
tearing away the escape of a lifetime
those tunnels     full to brim
rodents racing     through time
through this year     the fever


chills rise my skin
bead goose bumps, my mind
is clearing     “Are the dancers gone?
Are the babies okeh?”     Hands and
faces embody nurses, doctors

“Have you had any recent contact
with any small animals? ” they ask

recall dancers on toe     chaotic climax frenzy
they     dance     the dance     they dance

(Copyright © 1992 Allison Hedge Coke 1997 Coffee House Press in
Dog Road Woman. First Reprint in "Visit TeePee Town." Original
Magazine Publication in 13th Muse.)