black butterfly

Reputation for decay, for violence

where billie used to sing. The rows in a tableau, the decades of eviction

and their fruits. Strange

the murals brightly painted, icons I’ve not heard of.

Conflicted histories in the list

for English B: Wilkerson and Hooks, Staples, Ta-Nehisi.

How to know what’s implicit? Black

communities fanning out like wings. Black

on the map the outline of an etherized

insect: what you see when you pin the red

line of a city slinging plaques

for people you’ve not thought of.

Around the picturesque, the lakes and parks

“You see a spot on a window, and sometimes you don’t see

past that spot,” the heritage director says,

though tourist maps will scrub the areas in gray. Invisible?

No gift shops where the cops go rogue in episodes of Homicide.

No iridescence.

crawling toward mirage

EL PASO—If only you can get therefrom desiccated beds along

forests of saguaro, in fiendish shade of canyons … to walk out in the open

Some argue

the narrative becomes too difficult to understand

if you give away

the ending first, cut

from the bottom

who? for instance, the bones under the bones exposed,

scattered by the coral snakes and rattlers

for instance, what? the tatty blankets hanging on barbed wire 


somewhere near black mountains, where?

flayed in dehydrations, when?

why and why?

Notes, below the fold: Anything you want

Shrewd coyotes making the arrangements

cities at dusk, winter light

“As long as I kept walking I didn’t hear [the cries] ….” — Beckett

Water sounds like wind, wind like water over riprap, over

fallen masts that straddle the embankment. Black

rocks form entanglements. Black

ballast for the ship of night the wind is navigating.

Fog settles in the darkening. Along the falls, a figure with a dog.

A figure backing books, looks to where a deer is bounding

toward the bus. Near miss

where children in my thinking

wait with flashlights for their mothers’

gas-lit stoves. Light from cell phones.

Flash of the explosion. They cover themselves with cardboard.

They fall with their mouths open.

Kathleen Hellen is an award-winning poet whose latest collection Meet Me at the Bottom was released in Fall 2022. Her credits include The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin, Umberto’s Night, which won the poetry prize from Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, Hellen’s poems have won the Thomas Merton prize for Poetry of the Sacred and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review, as well as from the Maryland State Arts Council and Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. She can be found at and on Facebook.

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