Sticks & Stones
He takes his usual place on the sidewalk directly in front
of the clinic door, adjusts his microphone, the amplifier screeches to life.
He begins his preaching, “It’s a terrible day out here
in Englewood where babies are being murdered!” I’m stationed
at the door, and already my ears are ringing. I take a swig
of coffee from my thermos, the movement triggers him, he goes on about
the escorts having better things to do on a Saturday, like going to Poetry
Out Loud in Morristown, a reference so specific:
the press release written when a student I advised won the regional
competition some months ago, the two of us smiling in victory
on stage in photographs.
I wonder how much research he had to do to find this obscure tidbit, such
a grotesque fascination with me that has gone
into sharpening a dagger to pierce me, unnerve me, rock
my foundation. I wonder if he stayed up late clicking away
at a computer with a bad Wi-Fi connection, the triumph
he must have felt unearthing this nugget. I wonder how I appeared
in his imagination at the uncovering, how I must have buckled. Was I on
As I stand at the door, staring across the street at the library,
he reveals that he knows my name. Like all predators, he watches for my
reaction: he wants me panicky, wants me vulnerable, wants me naked
before him in truth. I don’t flinch. And we all know what happens when
men don’t get what they want.
A patient and her companion navigate the sidewalk, the team tries to
keep the screamers and the runner at bay. We daisy-chain
the space leading to the door, get them safely inside. As I close
the door, he’s right behind me--a mountain of a man--his amplified words
reach like claws. I turn, and for an eternal second, I look into his eyes,
puffy and watery, foul ponds that turn up dead fish. He backs away, the
sole of his shoe catches the concrete, and he slams down his poster
bearing a bloody fetus for support. He has seen it. . . he has seen it. . .
death looking him right in the eye.
And he’s pointing at me and screaming about Satan’s black bodyguard
paving the way for evil.
And there I am under the arch of the door, all five feet of me
in my pink vest, traffic rumbling down the one-way street,
and like a stampede of wild horses comes the laughter.
Jesus Loves the Babies
The rain doesn’t keep the protesters away,
the sidewalk in front of the library
across the street from the women’s clinic
is lined with the usuals:
A woman in a long dark dress belted at the waist
pushes a hooded baby carriage up the sidewalk
joins the crowd.
I have never seen her here before--
who brings out an infant in a torrent of rain?
As she bounces the swaddled baby
under her large dome umbrella
the limbs don’t move
the head remains oddly still. . .
a plastic baby doll like I had in the 80s
one that does pee-pee after her bottle
the mouth an endless pucker
waiting for a rush down its throat.
While she soothes her baby,
pats the doll’s back, kisses its molded forehead,
the rain pauses
and one of the other escorts looks up at the sky.
The clouds take no shape.
after the shift
i sink into the bathtub
steam fogs the mirror
the cat wails
from the edge of the tub
his eyes bright
though his body is wracked with age
he implores for answers
i don’t have
my head splits
the water nearly scalds
these hands that never come clean
Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She is the haibun editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Room, and The Rumpus among others. She can be found at www.christinetayloronline.com. Follow her on Twitter @cetaylorplfd.
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