Jeannine Hall Gailey


This was back when she still made nests
with mud and twigs, hoping that birds
would live in them. She placed them in the crooks
of maple, apple and pear trees, waiting patiently
for them to come and lay eggs. Her skin
was covered in scratches, from scrambling over shale
and rough bark and insect bites, her hair long and tangled.
She wanted to imitate the mockingbird, learned to whistle
for mourning doves. She hid in the honeysuckle and
crept up quietly on foxes and sometimes small bears.
She still believed she could talk to animals.
She wasn’t afraid then of anything, not the biggest
roaming dogs or the yellowjackets, yet.
She prayed to become one of them – the birds
fluttering the leaves, the cats whose fur she pressed
her face into, a wolf or a jaguar. This was back
when she still believed in prayer. She hid underneath
the wide shadows of leaves. She lay in the moss and broke
violet stems with her fingers, brought the violets and mosses indoors
where they wilted. This was before she became afraid of light.


Unstable frozen fuel tank
deadly hydrazine gas
with the impact of a 1000 pound bomb
the size of two football fields.

minimize risk to terrestrial areas

coma seizure burned lungs burned skin
The cleanup mission labeled “Burnt Frost”
waiting in my city
trucks and decontamination suits at the ready.

On the night the moon as dark and red
as the mottled face of an angry man
waving his gun in the face of another
hides from us, gives us back our shadow
and in that shadow we saw the stars.

It would take minutes they said
to burn the lungs enough to kill…
even if you survive inhalation
your kidneys, thyroid, liver, brain

And the sea so quiet ready to accept
one more gift from us
one more handful of debris
on the trajectory my home and yours.

unstable weather conditions make it hard to predict
uneven land masses population density
football fields

What’s raining from the skies isn’t love.
the sky is falling
The news headlines read
The moon has turned from us and dimmed

The war ships forcing their spacecraft
homeward in shards,

one more failed seeker
with a heart of metal and poison.


First, the green highway with big white churches,
then, new roadway paved with dollars from ORNL1,
the dilapidated houses sagging along the road,
the rusted cars up on blocks, the children
running with dirty mouths. The daffodils nod
in clumps, a fox darts in the road.
She directs him to Mabry Hood Road, the blank canvas
that was once her yard, her house, the gardens
carefully tended for sixty years. Spirea,
forsythia, then lilac or japonica, the wild stems
of crepe myrtle, the tulip magnolia;
here was where the pink dogwood bloomed,
the one with the grafted branches.
Here was the driveway she had learned
to drive a bike on, where her brother’s motorcycle
had spun angrily on gravel. Here, touch this:
her fossil rock, like a tooth-root unmovable in the bare dirt.
And the strawberries: now, nothing grows.
The red clay bleached by years.
He asks her to imagine, one last time, the sun’s glow
on the screen door after rain, the lily-of-the-valley
and foxglove gathered in her tiny fists,
the acorns she planted, the shells of cicadas, 
the half-wild dogs around her legs as she learned to climb
the pear trees. Her first snow.
She tells him there’s nothing to see here.

1 Oak Ridge National Laboratories, one of several sites where nuclear weapons were made.




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Jeannine Hall Gailey is the author of Becoming the Villainess, published by Steel Toe Books. Her poems were featured on The Writer´s Almanac and Verse Daily. She teaches at the MFA program at National University. Her second book, She Returns to the Floating World, is forthcoming from Kitsune Books in 2011.




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