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Belly Song

By Kathleen Hellen

I sit in the front row of
bleachers -- cheap seats for greater grief.
My son

the tribe in his ribs
the strength in him, keen, huddled
runs through the hits, breathes
through the pale ghost of stitches
these games that go long into hard victories.

Who knows how long we have them?
when sirens call to the streets
when one sends back his fatigue

another's enlisted.

The bones of an open humvee. The bones
at a roadside checkpoint.

It might be that we swallow them:
A belly song. A flag sent home
A rosary like dog tags

A triage of crows flies over
My son

packs up his cleats
The fog of his breathing surrenders
He limps to the car where I tender
his wounds. The bones
of a cradle, breaking.

Added: Thursday, July 3, 2014  /  First appeared in Yellow Medicine Review (Fall 2009). Used with permission.
Kathleen Hellen
Photo by Zachary Paesani.

Kathleen Hellen, born in Tokyo, half Japanese, is the author of The Only Country was the Color of my Skin (Saddle Road Press, 2018) and Umberto’s Night, winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for poetry (2012), and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Hellen’s poems have appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, North American Review, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Seattle Review, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Witness, and elsewhere. Nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net, and featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have been awarded the Thomas Merton poetry prize and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. For more on Kathleen visit her website.

Other poems by this author