Two Poems by Amanda Bales


Each Thanksgiving my mother tells us 
the stories from where she has come, like 

the time a dog broke into the smokehouse 
and she beat that dog to death. I know, 

I don’t like this story either, but her eyes
spark against the violence, grow brighter 

when she tells how scab wives begged 
for union aid and were told this was

the price they paid. I know, trust me, 
but I never gutted a favored mare for meat

or listened to my father black lung drown
with no hope of relief. My wince and cringe

was bought with the pain of this woman
whose woes sharpened her love to flint, 

or at least this was the case until
my squirm at the burn in her eyes 

was stilled by the seam a man exposed in me
the night he bloodied my sister and her son.

So now I heed the light darkness brings, 
the stories from where I have come.

Agnes & Elpis

I have swung this cast iron
across continents and clavicles, 
a tether to Agnes in whose house, 
if you left a berry peck alone, 
you’d return home to jam.

Daughter of two wars and black lung, 
she ran whiskey to Ozark honky-tonks
and danced the Playboys’ high ball all
while gleaning men whose shattered smiles 
should have been enough warning.

Look, maybe her love of canning 
was the same winter prayer performed 
by poor women everywhere, but I think 
she took pleasure in double boiled danger,
a trait, as my mother would tell you,  

I inherited, and which, when graceful, 
call curiosity, the gift Hera gave Elpis, 
also known as Pandora, whom men blame
for chaos and pain, though Hesiod proclaims 
no one can escape the will of Zeus.

So sure, go ahead and slur this woman, 
decked-out and dropped among men,
declare her daughters stained in sin 
and the world well-nigh Eden if only 
we would resist the urge to pry. 

But, as Agnes could tell you, 
a jar whose innards foam 
never was sealed proper, 
and better you know now, 
than some last hope day.

Amanda Bales received her MFA from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Her work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The Nashville Review, Raleigh Review, and elsewhere. She writes and teaches in central Illinois. 

return to poetry                 home