September 26, 2016

S.H. Lohmann


It only takes a few calls to confirm
that the man who stabbed his wife to death last

week was my former student Claude,
the paper’s photo grainy but clear enough

to just make out the braided cut
rope’s grip left around his neck.

I stare at his picture, and begin to count
as many facts as I can muster:

Burundi by way of Tanzania, then Michigan,
then Roanoke, a long slow fleeing from violence

I can’t comprehend. Here, their charity house.
Our English lessons. Their eight children

police say were unharmed but crouched somewhere
inside. Miriam was found in bed, blanketed

in blood, declared dead on scene; Claude
in the basement just cut from noose, his oldest son

standing nearby, handling the blade.
Everyone is surprised—

their children’s teachers and coaches shaking
their heads; the church calling their home “busy and active.”

In our interview, I tell the reporter all
I know: that they sat in the back of my evening class,

that they were quiet, that Claude always took
notes. Miriam wore gold sandals with kitten

heels—I remember her small, hard
feet, narrow as clams. I don’t mention

that she had a sarcastic smile, always muttering
sharply to the women in Kirundi, because I’m afraid

it sounds like blame. Like when I consider
for too long the caramel smear of Claude’s dark eyes,

I know I’m just looking for something:
a missed signal, a preventative sign.

What I know are just facts:
which vowels gave them trouble, how

she confused stop and start, how he asked me
once if hot was the same as heart

the insistence of miming this question this way:
his open palm fanning for heat, and heartbeat

as a pounding fist, coming down hard
on his own chest, over and over again.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016


S.H. Lohmann: “I have always considered myself to be a textbook extrovert, processing everything out loud, and often learning what I’m thinking as the thoughts are coming out of my mouth. In some ways, living among so many introverted writers, I prided myself on this. But poetry has taught me that I have an emotional gestation period after all, and more importantly, that the pause, however short, can be essential to the work. I tried writing this poem a hundred times within the year after experiencing the event—unsurprisingly I was too close, too deeply involved. Everything became flat and contrived, reduced to a grisly headline or a muted expression of shock. Time and space made new connections, opening the experience up to a larger framework. I’ve since written this poem again and learned something else: like good conversation, like family, like grief, my poems are never the final word on anything I’m feeling or thinking, but rather a constantly shifting thing to nurture, fight, and live in.”

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December 28, 2013

S.H. Lohmann


My mother was the kind of woman who just wanted to be taken;
my father’s young ribs were already gnarled but he staked the con,
took my mother’s fresh heart and promised to fill it with worlds
and money and oceans and art. She was ravenous, ate the meat
without flinching. He’d later say that she had a bird’s eager mouth,
always crying for more, all blind beg and wide, fervent throat open.

Two months after his third wedding my father, still young and open
went cutting northbound roads mostly alone, sometimes taking
to curbsides for penniless strangers, nestling their fists and mouths.
This was before he met my mother, before he’d turned the great con
that made me. He spoke no English, learned words over red meat
at Texas restaurants: cow and beer, dollar, woman, this strange world

endless and flat, his car and bag parked outside, all he had in the world.
He grew a mustache, kindled the beginnings of a sturdy gut, opened
a small business making empanadas—pastry, cheese, raisins, meat.
The words were coming fast now, a lunch rush where he was taken
seriously by the business men and pretty young girls who were cruel cons
to all men with their long smooth legs, all contraband, sweet pink mouths.

He could speak enough now and the girls loved his lilted mouth,
the purr that makes even arroz a low lovers’ thing. He entered a world
where rich beauties spent money on the cute foreign guy, and the con
was easy—soon he was doing radio work and these little girls, opened
legs, hearts, wallets, everything for him and whatever it took
to keep him happy, this father they’d never have, all love and meat

and yes, mijita, you’re beautiful. But my father was greedy and let the meat
turn. He robbed their homes, fleeing East. He met my mother, her mouth
Cajun red spice at a crawfish boil. She taught him to take
the head between his teeth and suck the insides, eat the brains, the world.
He won my mother just by listening—she laughed when he opened
the tiny crustacean chest, trusted the way he smiled, missed the con’s

fast lift and soon he had his fourth wife. It was easy; she was a con
man’s dream, lovely and weak, easily bruised, and my father’s meaty
fist made her nervous, the way it clenched and waved, turning open
only once he’d won and his wife sunk weightless to the floor, mouth
brimming and hushed. When they had me he said I was the world,
promised to change, cradled us both and cried. Later, he’d take

everything. My mother won’t open again, expects the con.
She knows what it is to be taken now, has no hunger for meat.
Oh, the stupid, eager mouth, she says. Oh, the world.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


[download audio]

S.H. Lohmann: “Auden said you knew you were a poet not because you felt you had something to say, but because you loved language. Often I find myself writing a story and getting distracted by verse, by patterns and play. I like to hang around words, to see what they can do. Everything comes back to that.”

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