A selection of poems from Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno’s Slamming Open the Door

Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.



Sticks and Stones

To you, who killed my daughter—
Run. Run. Hide.
Tell your mother
to thread the needle
made of bone.
It is her time now
to sew the shroud.

The men are coming
with sticks and stones
and whetted spears
to do what needs doing.



The Hair

Bernadette in blue jeans,
and Suzanne in her swishy skirt and boots,
in another time
would have worn veils
and wailed at the wall for her,
or washed her gently
and prayed for her Victorian soul,
or put pennies on her eyes
for the ferryman.

Today they work with what they’ve got—
one healthy hank of hair,
chopped off the back of her head
by the funeral director.

They shampoo it three times
until it smells like honeysuckle,
brush it and tie it and lay
the curling bundles
on the dining room table.

They put one in an abalone box,
one in an amber box,
one in a wooden box,
and one in a locket for me,
to fasten around my neck.


Don’t pity me:
I was too lazy to walk
up the stairs
to tuck her in at night.

When I brushed her hair
I pulled hard
on purpose.

And always
the sharp,
plaintive edge
on the rim
of the spoon
of my giving.



The Unitarian Society of Germantown

The church is a big wooden boat,
Dave and I in a corner,
as the rain drops patter
then slash
through the dark outside.

Hold on tight,
says the kindly moon face
of the minister.

But we can smell our own sweat.
We roll our eyes and moan
and grapple for position.

One by one, the others
press their bodies against us,
until finally,
we tire and lean in
to their patient animal breath,
to wait it out together.




We see them everywhere now.
Last month, a tiny baby one
more orange than red,
purposeful, crawling
on the wall
above my side of the bed.

Inside a domed reception hall
at a fund-raising supper,
in the middle
of our round table
sits a perfect dead one.

We eat our soup
until one of us spots it,
our spoons slowing.

My niece wraps it in a pink tissue,
as if it were a sequin dropped
from the sleeve of God,
and takes it home.

After the trial, a blizzard
of ladybugs on the courthouse steps,
more this week
than Berks County has seen in years.
At first we crunch them underfoot
until, horrified, we look down
and know what we do.

Hundreds of them,
shining orange and black,
the dead and the living together—
the living
on the backs of the dead.




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