Midnight, the train, the heard past, the rumbling stall of an apartment behind the jukebox, the cattle call of miners, pipefitters, boilermakers naming shots chased with budweisers. The dirty hands, dirty faces. The women beehived in their kitchens. Anonymous, trading recipes and sorrows. Radio and room remain. The little square of stars above the twin. The junkyard and the river. The peaches never ripening behind the bowling alley. In the places where I’ve lived—Pittsburgh, Baltimore—it follows into age, my thoughts running midnight rails, the “loose imagination,” as Yeats had said, the “mill of the mind” that bears witness to some truth, like Blake’s chimney sweep, Levine’s Joe Priskulnick seeing Jesus on a dish towel, the truth of Angelou whose women work, of Akhmatova, though truth’s despised these days, faltering in the news cycles, along the distances of race, religion, the barren dignities of gender. What’s the worth of 53 to 85 percent of every dollar, if dollar’s worth is less than what’s inflating? No statue in the world to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Emma Goldman. Not a dollar for the work of Harriet Tubman. Always when I raise my fist, my mind pulls the whistle.
Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Only Country was the Color of My Skin (2018), the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net, and featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, North American Review, Poetry East, and West Branch, among others. Hellen has won the Thomas Merton poetry prize and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. For more on Kathleen visit https://www.kathleenhellen.com/ .