To My Son, Home from College
You’re home complaining how crowded
our house feels with the new baby,
question the noise, her crying.
These rooms used to be yours.
Then you speak of going to live with your dad.
The dad who wanted to show you the alternatives.
I always asked him, alternatives to what?
I walk down Sixth Street alone,
big black umbrella carried in front,
tears falling faster than the rain.
I could come home and sit with you,
but what could I say?
I love to see you;
that could be enough.
Though you ask nothing about me.
You belong to your father now;
your little finger lifts off the cup
the way his does.
You rub your face hard on both cheeks,
rub your chin several times
when you feel something important.
Like how you can’t stand it here any more.
You laugh, when you really laugh,
with his guttural growls.
Offer up unexpected belches and animal sounds
while other people just talk.
He pours you a whiskey.
Knowing your history and his,
I wonder what else.
I don’t need to know the rest.
What I know is that
he’s showing the other choices
that may change you as they did him.
Six Maple Trees
lined the edge of the farm
we called Ye Dascomb Aerie.
We could not reach into the first two.
They limbed up too high.
We climbed the last one
near the raspberry patch.
The one with the rope swing Cecil made.
That strong limb just above our heads
made for us to swing up on,
into branches high above the ground.
We carved our initials there, the taller cousins
toward the top, the shorter ones
near the bottom. I loved cutting
into the bark with my green Girl Scout knife.
It made the tree ours.
Cousin Alan and I would climb as high as
we could, then Alan went
higher. We could talk up there
about Fats Domino and Elvis.
When we were alone, Jerry Lee Lewis.
He married his thirteen- year- old cousin.
The maple branches strong
enough to hold twelve cousins each summer.
Fat green leaves in summer, red in fall,
they held our secrets, then dropped
them without ceremony to the ground.
Everyone who visited had to pass
the test of our maple tree. Could they
climb it and how high? Could they
hang upside down from the high
branch, then jump all the way down?
The Liberian women made a last stand in the market.
They took off their clothes and stood before the guerrillas.
The young men stepped back. The war was over.
In a time when sexual assault prevails
as often as we hear of young boys killing villages
of men and women in Syria, in Afghanistan, in parts
of Africa, some policemen on American streets,
what will end mindless cruelty and revenge?
Will taking off our clothes work more than once?
We are your sisters, sons, your daughters not yet born,
your mothers and grandmothers.
We stand in the place where you find comfort.
You kill yourselves.
Some of Donna Emerson’s publications include Alembic, CQ (California Quarterly), CALYX, The Chaffin, Dos Passos Review, Eclipse, Edison Literary Review, Fourth River, Fox Cry Review, The Griffin, The Los Angeles Review, LUX, New Ohio Review, Paterson Literary Review, Passager, Persimmon Tree, Praxis: Gender & Cultural Critiques (formerly Phoebe), Quiddity, Sanskrit, Slipstream, Soundings East, So To Speak, The South Carolina Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Spillway, Stone Canoe, and Weber—The Contemporary West. Donna’s work has received numerous prizes and awards including honorable mention in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, nominations for the Pushcart Prize (2013), and Best of the Net (2012). Her second chapbook, Body Rhymes (2009), nominated for a California Book Award, and third and fourth chapbooks, Wild Mercy (2011) and Following Hay (2013), have been published by Finishing Line Press. Donna’s work can also be seen in anthologies such as Echoes (2012), Keeping Time: 150 Years of Journal Writing (Passager Press), Chopin with Cherries, A Tribute in Verse (Moonrise Press), Music In The Air (Outrider Press), and The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems of the San Francisco Bay Watershed (Sixteen Rivers).