wood thrush

This week’s challenge at Poetry Thursday was to write a dialogue poem. For some reason I’ve been thinking about an incident from 11 years ago, the rape and brutal murder of an 11-year-old girl by a 15-year-old boy she’d been going on hikes with, including up our hollow. (See my mother’s book Applachian Summer for the whole story.) Unpleasant to think about, let alone to try and write about, but I think violence against girls and women is real and pervasive, and we shouldn’t let it pass in silence simply because of its connection with so much that remains unspeakable.


Gram was starting a batch of cookies
when I went out
I’m just going up the street I told her
I didn’t say anything about our secret places

    you told you told
    your innocent act didn’t fool me
    we could’ve gone exploring forever
    if you hadn’t told

I wish I’d waited
we had all summer
& I love to lick the batter off the spoon
though she always says raw eggs aren’t safe

    the loathing on your face when I showed you
    what you did to me
    put it aWAY you said

I hear them calling & the name
reminds me of something
maybe that fish that died of loneliness when I was five
I used to press my ear against the tank

    sugar & spice for my frogs & snails
    we had a deal
    I showed you old farm dumps a hole in the fence
    one rusty shovel to turn an acre of need

how strange this sudden softness
into which I’ve slipped
fog so thick I can’t make out the trees
Gram’s cookies must be getting cold

    I might’ve stopped short of the shovel
    if you hadn’t gone crying to Jesus
    ignoring me who had given you
    all I had

Melody I hear them call
Melody   Melody
as if the birds weren’t already singing
as if it weren’t enough


25 Replies to “Melody”

  1. Yes, chilling is an apt word. I think writing a poem from the criminal’s perspective is so much more difficult–but ultimately so much more enlightening–than writing a poem from the victim’s point of view. We all can imagine, presumably, what it’s like to be victimized…but the mind of a murdering rapist is the real mystery.

    What’s the story with the wood thrush? Is it clambering onto an upright surface, like a barn door, or is it lying injured on a horizontal surface, like a picnic table? The vulnerability of those pink legs & one outstretched wing goes so well with this piece.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I’m glad y’all found it effective; it’s too new for me to have an opinion.

    Lorianne – It’s lying on my porch after having given the window a glancing blow. I had just enough time to snap this one shot before it recovered and flew off. So unlike that indigo bunting I photographed the other week, I don’t think the collision did it any permanent damage.

    I’ve written a couple other things from a criminal’s point of view, something I learned from reading the great contemporary poet Ai.

  3. Powerful and disturbing piece, it is always fascinating to enter the criminal mind and glimpse their thought process before they committ such horrific acts.

  4. I would agree that the vicitimizer’s voice is very effective here, and all that more difficult to write. I think the stanza with the line about the acre of need is my favorite.

  5. I read this one yesterday and today; it’s wholly clear and interestingly vague at the same time. Yet I have such a strong visceral reaction–as a person, as a mother–to the whole idea that I can’t untangle it from the poem.

    And I keep thinking that I never, never, never would have let a girl of 11 (and what a beautiful, perfect age 11 is for girls and boys, the last sweet hurrah before puberty) go into the woods with a boy of 15… As if that kind of thought could do any good for the dead.

  6. Thanks for these additional comments. Much appreciated.

    marlyat2 – I hear you. The sad irony is that she was spending the summer with her grandmother in Tyrone because her mother deemed that to be safer than her home in Croom-A-Coochee, Florida.

  7. Wow. You have a rare talent for seeing past the surfaces of things, and this just confirms it. It’s easy to scream eeevil! and ostracise people… it’s much harder to remember that criminals are also fellow human beings, and most aren’t even outright psychopaths.

  8. Thanks. If you liked this poem, you might also appreciate RAWA Blues, which is in the voice of a biracial member of a white power gang; Moth Man, in the voice of a murderer about to be put to death; and Johnnie to Frankie, among others. As the title of the last one suggests, folk songs are another rich source of inpiration for dramatic monologues (and dialogues) from a criminal’s POV. Steve Earle got into big trouble with “John Walker’s Blues” a couple years ago.

  9. Thanks for stopping by. I read your poem about Elie Wiesel’s conversation with God last night and enjoyed it, though I was too tired to leave an intelligible comment.

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