To Break a Thing
a collaborative poem 
by Leigh Cheak,
Ron Houchin, and Pauletta Hansel

We’re in the bath, her quick hands
soaping both of us. I turn and see
her wobbling breasts, nipples the color 
of clay. I was two—I knew without knowing
that red triangle of groin was a home
I was not to go back to. At fifteen,

give or take a wasted year or two,
this first lost memory of her 
bobbed up to be pushed down
to that place of other broken things—
thrown dishes, toys, their marriage, split 
lips from whatever was handy

when I needed from her more than she had.
By then I was the delinquent
the grandparents she’d dumped me on
at six always knew I’d turn out to be.
She’d got her own place across town
so she could find a new dad for me

she said, but when I’d run those night
streets crying from her parents’ shriveled
mercies to her closed door she’d just fling
me wild back to the dark I grew to love.
I could break into anything—houses, cars.
We called it joyriding: drive until you

run it out of gas, leave it empty
where it lands. I broke my ribs,
my shoulder, fingers, toes. I broke
my leg three times—same leg. That last 
fall from somebody else’s fire escape
is what wholly broke me. I landed

in a world of books. What else
was there to do but read and think, 
those weeks in traction? I always wonder,
how was it that she knew—
surely she knew?—you have to break 
a thing to make a new thing from it. 

“To Break a Thing” is a collaboration begun at the 2017 Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School in Rebecca Gayle Howell’s poetry workshop. At the workshop, Leigh composed a poem from an interview she conducted with Ron, and Ron drafted his own poem using the same source material. Later, Pauletta took both poems and made a new thing from them.

Leigh Cheak is a poet pursuing her MFA at Western Kentucky University. She is also the Editor-in Chief of Lost River. Her poems are forthcoming in Wildflower Press’ Anthology: Wild Voices, Vol. 2, and have appeared most recently in The McNeese Review, Beecher’s Magazine, and The Harpoon Review, among others.

Ron Houchin is most recently author of Planet of the Best Love Songs and a novel, The Devil's Trill.  Poems are recently in or soon to appear in Poetry Ireland Review, The Galway Review, The Stony Thursday Book, Blue Lyra Review, Plume, and others.

Pauletta Hansel is author of six poetry collections, including Palindrome (Dos Madres Press, 2017), poems and memoir in response to her mother’s dementia. She is managing editor of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative’s literary journal, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.

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