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Poetry WINTER 2013

Amie Heasley

CHILDHOOD ANTHEMS


ITSY BITSY SPIDER

Rumor had it Heavenly was wanted on drug charges, so it was high time he shitcan the weed. Every night, before he sang his sweet daughter’s favorite bedtime song, before he clumsily gestured the spider ascending the waterspout, he took a few quick tokes. His parents were Veritable Woodstock Fans. While he assumed they’d done their fair share of drugs given his given name, his mom insisted it was because whenever she looked at him in the hospital, she would say, “Isn’t he just heavenly?”

What did it matter anyway? Both of his parents were dead and Heavenly had faked his own death. The pot he often smoked and sometimes sold had riddled him with paranoia. Or maybe it was the fact that he didn’t want to marry Pauline after all.

Now the jig was up. At first, Heavenly wanted to run from that cop, who as it turned out, had pulled him over for nothing more than a blown taillight. Almost fifteen years earlier, he went out for a swim and didn’t come back, leaving his fiancee, Pauline, and their four-year-old daughter, to think the worst. His body hadn’t surfaced, but the surface area of Lake Superior, nearly thirty-two thousand square miles, was greater than the combined areas of five states. Pauline had made Heavenly feel like an intruder in his own home. Except for his bedtime singing, she wouldn’t let him manage a goddamn thing: paying the bills, sorting the laundry, toasting their daughter’s frozen waffles, changing out the toilet paper roll. Then again, he remembered reading the obit she’d placed in the local paper. Heavenly had been touched by Pauline saying he was “the kind of dedicated father who cherished singing to his baby girl.”

Too bad he’d never done it sober.

When the officer approached, rain landed in fat, judgmental drops on Heavenly’s windshield, and he drifted to thoughts of the spider, how the more likely outcome of its stupid repetitive climbing would be a watery grave. “I’m sorry,” Heavenly said, handing over his license and registration. “The pain I’ve caused. It can’t be qualified.”

Or had he meant quantified?

Heavenly had changed his name and married another woman. She was plenty less beautiful than Pauline, but plenty more forgiving of his shortcomings, especially the necessity for his medical marijuana prescription. They shared an eleven-year-old daughter. His other daughter would be closing in on nineteen. He wondered if her adolescence had been the three-dimensional melodrama everybody promised it would be.

The cop laughed at Heavenly. He said busting him for a busted taillight didn’t hurt much. Despite getting away with it, Heavenly confessed he’d been under the impression there was an outstanding warrant, that he’d sprinted into a homelier, yet kinder woman’s arms, that he’d allowed his other family to go on believing he’d drowned, and that somewhere, a little girl all grown up might still be waiting to hear his tone-deaf lullaby.

RING AROUND THE ROSIE

Alaska is not sick with the Great Plague, but with aggression, and while she continues to turn around and around, around and around, she refuses to fall down. Instead, she throws up her hands and screams, like she’s surrendering to some kind of standard toddler crime, playing in the toilet or coloring on walls.

Toddlers slap. They punch. Sometimes, they bite. The pediatrician says this is normal. Toddlers like ours do this because they can’t talk in full sentences, but still fight to communicate. He tells us to do our best to console our daughter, to try not to overreact when she hurts us. He assures us she doesn’t mean it. He assures us this behavior, too, shall pass.

It hasn’t passed. Alaska scratched my retina. She took a ballpoint from my purse and stabbed her father in the thigh with it. We love her more than anything we could have ever in our lives imagined loving, and yet, we wonder what she might do when she grows older, prettier, stronger. We wonder if Alaska’s birthmother told us the truth about her level of narcotic use during her pregnancy.

She’d only used once, methamphetamine, and said she’d stopped when she’d discovered the baby. We gave her credit for being honest with us, the adoptive parents, the people assigned to give her baby a better life far, far away in Midwest suburbia. We told her we wanted to honor her baby—our little girl—by naming her after the state where she was born, a place so unspoiled and quiet and beautiful.

We did our homework. We learned that meth wreaks havoc on the nervous system, leading to brain changes that can cause anxiety, moodiness and violent behavior. We read studies revealing that pregnant moms who indugled in meth, even just once, could pass on significant behavior problems to their unborn kids. We extra-childproofed our home. We regularly visited the blogs of parents with babies addicted to crack, heroin and meth. We sought professional counseling. We prayed. We burned sandalwood incense. We hoped the rising smoke in our home, and the ashes, the piles of ashes left behind, would one day bring our Alaska peace.

I lie down on our living room floor because it’s the only place I feel comfortable, the place where my back and my hips don’t ache for a few fleeting moments. Toddlers can go from laughter to tears, laughter to tears, laughter to tears in the time it takes the average mommy or daddy to flush out a sneeze.

Toddlers writhe. Sometimes, they kick.

Alaska kicks me in the face, then giggles, then cries, then runs from my outstretched arms. Inside me, another baby kicks, the baby doctors confirmed I would never be able to conceive, Alaska’s sibling, the boy or girl we’re afraid to name, but long to hold.

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Amie Heasley received her MFA in fiction from Western Michigan University in 2006. Most recently, her work has appeared online at Corium, Juked, Prick of The Spindle and The Smoking Poet. When she isn’t writing fiction, she works as a freelance writer for the marketing, public relations and advertising industry. She (along with her husband, daughter and dog) calls Kalamazoo home.