4 Poems — Gerry LaFemina

Ballot Box

The only time I ran for office the returns were delivered by our civics teacher. Since my nomination my campaign had been phenomenal, and if casinos gave odds for high school elections, Bally’s would have had me at 2:1. But this was the Balkans of suburbia. The bullies had done their jobs: there’d been threats, posters ripped from bulletin boards, talk of the detention hall. No inspectors watched the polls. When the bell closed down the class day, our instructor read the results. No surprise I lost, but with negative numbers? The three classmates who penciled in Anyone but G–, I can surmise. Thus I went down in history. I confess my concession speech was written under duress, for even my friends had defected as we’d all been reminded they’d built the gulag of the coat closet close by.


Ballet Box

Not a waltz. Not a tango or merengue. Not a macarena or hustle or even a belly dance. Not a billion of them mass produced, but maybe a million. Wind it up and the dancer dances, arms above head, feet on point, she twirls to the disjointed melody of sugar plum fairies. The young girl sleeps beneath toe shoes. She dreams of gypsies in position one and then batterie. She winds the key when mother says bed time and then slips between blankets into dreams of tutus and tights. Such a simple but brilliant gift: like her dreams, it requires no batteries. She just winds the key (not too far, mother says when she says good night, we don’t want it to break) and the dancer dances, twirls until the song ends and then goes still.


Bullet Box

By nine we’d be on our rounds with an empty carton to collect the casings. They glowed brassy and bad ass in the alleys mornings-after, the rounds discharged. We didn’t like to think why or who at. In case you forgot: they’d billeted a militia a few blocks from here. In case you forgot: some live; some die. These are the ground rules we wake up to. Nights I’d stare at the ceiling listening to .45 thunder, cower under the sheets like it were a special Saturday night. When the bull of my pulse stampeded, keeping me from sleep for hours, I’d hold one of those shells to my ear hoping to hear the ocean’s lullaby.


Billet Doux

Cara mia, I left the sweets for you, those caramels, kisses, non-pareils. The chocolate rich and smooth as skin. I brought, too, the doves of my devotion. They coo carefree in their rooftop coop unaware of the peregrine falcon circling above. There’s more to come, so forgive, sweetheart, these sweet notes with their crosshair Xs, their bullet hole Os, straight from the midway shooting range. I know they must bedevil you, riddled as they are with the riddle that is amore.


Gerry LaFemina’s latest books are Little Heretic (poems) and Palpable Magic: Essays on Poets and Prosody (both Stephen F, Austin University Press); his textbook Composing Poetry: A Guide to Writing Poems and Thinking Lyrically comes out later this year from Kendall Hunt. He teaches at Frostburg State University and serves as a poetry mentor in the Carlow University low residency MFA.