Saint Gabriel

Here they brought thousands
of the hurricane’s dead. Even the dogs
knew to stay away, low rumble in their throats,

September begun with a lurch
and a dream. My husband teaches
sixth-graders, cannot explain why

here, town of the archangel, bodies
keep coming, their second
deaths: his students have started school

with Call of the Wild, and where in the past
girls blanched and resisted the chapters
of blood and rage, boys triumphing

with their own pubescent gestures—
they don’t say a thing, quieter, he says,
in general, which, for middle-schoolers, is more

a sickness than a gift. The warehouse
on the edge of town is full of drowned bodies
waiting again for water. My husband

comes home with a chestful of certain defeat,
certain joy, pulls my wrists to the pulsing points
in his neck: today on the portico he came upon

a child talking into her hands, the way
an old woman might, recalling
secrets. The girl was practicing

her vocabulary, chanting words of the frontier
into her fingers as though her body
would hold them, call them forth

for the moments that have no words, those
she cannot name, skittering in and out of the longest
vowels, like a fierce angel, setting them free.


Susanna Childress lives in Holland, Michigan, and teaches writing at Hope College. Recently her work was selected by Sherman Alexie for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. She has published two books of poetry, writes short fiction and creative nonfiction and makes up half of the music group Ordinary Neighbors, whose songs are based on her writing (the other half is her spouse, the wildly talented Joshua Banner). This poem first appeared in Fugue.

Photo by Michael Schaffner/Flickr; used under Creative Commons License.