“Shriven” by Chera Hammons

Chera Hammons


The worst part is that there is still some hope.
That there keeps being hope, no matter what happens to us.

Even though my stomach has hurt since the second grade
and I worry, one day, I won’t be able to make it to work anymore.

Even though when you were a child, you couldn’t say your Rs right.
We confess our wildest disappointments to each other,

no matter how small. The ways our families’ politics let us down.
The way you teach fourth grade instead of college,

though the debt we pay promised us something else.
The last rejection I got from Copper Canyon Press.

The way the plumber installed our dryer vent
(it’s too long, and the angle far too steep).

The way our border collie barks day and night at nothing,
no matter how we yell at or cajole her.

And if there is room enough for her to slip past
the person who opens the gate to feed her, she will.

The last time she got by us, she did it at night,
escaped into the blackness by the road

where we could hear her rushing like a wild boar through the sage,
then catch on the bottom strand of barbed wire with a yelp

that said she didn’t have the time to worry
about either her hurt or our embarrassment.

We stood in the road and could soon find no trace of her.
The darkness settled over us like a dove,

but all of the houses on the street had one bulb shining.
A quarter of a mile away, she appeared without warning

under the neighbor’s porch light,
as if she had always been waiting at the wrong door.

When we called the name that should have drawn her back,
she looked our way, tongue hanging, then disappeared.

I went to get the car, but by the time I had pulled out of the driveway
you were approaching in its headlights, bent low over the dog,

the dog pulling and panting, jerking you toward home.
I rolled down the window and offered you the leash,

but you called, It’s all right—I’ve got her collar
as if we weren’t talking about two different things.

That damned dog. That damned dog.
She won’t stop barking at nothing.

And all this time, though there’s no place left for any of us,
we keep living here. We keep confessing to one another.

Every time we are saved, we pretend it’s forever.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

[download audio]


Chera Hammons: “My dog June, who inspired many of the lines in this poem, was adopted from a kill shelter. When my husband and I adopted her, it was her last day, and ‘Euthanize’ was stamped in red across all of her paperwork. She was a mystery when we got her—she was already spayed, she was mostly housebroken, and she had had some light training. Someone in the past had cared about her. Over the years, we’ve come to discover the issues that probably landed her in the shelter, but she’s ours now, part of our home, and we will do our best not to fail her. So much of the time, when there’s so much that’s out of our control, that’s all we can really do, I think—accept what we are, what we have, and try not to fail each other.” (website)

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