on the night my internationally adopted son arrived
After we picked you up at the Omaha airport,
we clamped you into a new car seat
and listened to you yowl
beneath the streetlights of Nebraska.
Our hotel suite was plump with toys,
ready, we hoped, to soothe you into America.
But for a solid hour you watched the door,
shrieking, Umma, the Korean word for mother.
Once or twice you glanced back at us
and, in this netherworld where a door home
had slammed shut forever, your terrified eyes
paced between the past and the future.
Umma, you screamed. Umma!
But your foster mother back in Seoul never appeared.
Your new mother and I lay on the bed,
cooing your birth name,
until, at last, you collapsed into our arms.
In time, even terror must yield to sleep.
Meet & Eat
after Gary Snyder
At the butcher’s counter,
when we stand before rows of wild salmon,
bratwurst, and stacked butterfish,
I watch you press against the glass—
your eyes swimming over crushed ice
as you consider bivalves, flanks of mutton, and ribs.
You pace before this altar of food,
furrowing your brow, trying to decide which animal
you want to consume for our tradition, “meet & eat.”
Rabbit and lobster, snow crab and pheasant,
octopus, walleye, oyster, and beef heart—
they have all entered your body, cell by cell.
After you’ve made your choice,
the flesh is wrapped in a cocoon of wax paper,
and we return home, thinking of transformation.
But before we click on the oven,
we open books to learn about hatching,
growth, movement, and prey.
We think of teeth, hooves, swishing fins,
and tongues tufting sweetgrass—
the life, in short, of the animal waiting in our fridge.
Only then do we peel away the butcher’s paper
to marvel at the architecture of bone or shell,
the hinges of movement, now stilled.
We offer a toast—
I with fermented grapes,
you with cow’s milk infused with cocoa beans.
And then, ah, the saucepan and the lemons come out,
the blood of tomatoes, the summer downpour
of butter sizzling in a pan, the fat of olives.
I stand next to the biosphere of your being,
thinking of the man you are becoming,
and we take turns flipping, jabbing, spicing.
Once the flesh has browned,
and the silverware set out like compass needles,
we move to the table, scooch up our chairs, and stare
at what will soon be gone.
Teaching the History of the Third Reich to Ninth Graders
—after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia
Because I am a guest speaker,
they lean in when I say such words
as Untermensch, Aryan, and Shoah.
I talk about how the bedrock of democracy
was dynamited by jackbooted thugs,
how these men raised the gallows of their arms,
and marched through the streets with brass knuckles and song.
I teach them the word Lüggenpresse, the lying press,
and explain how the National Socialists
used this phrase to erase facts with the acid of hate.
I talk about the Nuremberg Laws, broken glass, and blood.
“It happened fast,” I say, staring at the American flag.
A train, somewhere in the distance, bleats out at a crossing—
there is the sound of heavy freight clacking,
it is a metronome, or something like the ticking of a bomb.
I stare at these ninth graders who are just beginning
to author the long pages of their lives.
They are fifteen, as old as Anne Frank happened to be
when the door of her attic world was kicked open
and all that had once been safely locked outside,
came pouring in.
Copyright © Patrick Hicks 2019