Light & Shadow, Shadow & Light
by Hayley Mitchell Haugen
My boys are swinging on the porch in June,
the honey bees encircling toes – their blood
is sweet, attracts, like nectar on a spoon.
They do not draw the sting, but even good,
I fear the world’s ills stumbling upon them.
For now, they take in all that summer holds –
the sweaty days are long, their joys: a wren
alight, a caterpillar that unfolds
in palm of hand, the minnows at the creek,
and all the shiny treasures found in sand.
I marvel at their wonderment each week –
I see it now – I fully understand:
these are the little moments mothers save;
all while I write a book on Abu Ghraib.
All while I write a book on Abu Ghraib,
I cannot find the words for such offense
to sum in picture captions – cannot stave
the shocking jolt, a rabid vehemence.
They’re chained by power: naked, treated hard
as dogs, a pyramid of men upset
ass-first to camera: the Joker’s card
revealed to an astonished nation bent
on truth. A beaten man is kept on ice,
alive, awaiting cold mortician’s tray.
I feel my yellow-ribbon pride unwind;
there’s not much left America can say.
But my attention’s drawn from shame, this bruise:
the death of rays and sharks is on the news.
The death of rays and sharks is on the news:
what mother could foresee a dark desire,
that any son would climb a fence and choose
to take a life that Mother Nature’s sired?
From open tanks they lifted creatures out –
the stingrays must have struggled in the air,
the baby sharks sought water with their snouts
while stabbed and stripped of skin from head to rear.
They strung fish up, then went for more again;
the starfish shriveled in the morning sun.
Is it these boys who grow to violent men
despite the love that’s given when they’re young?
No answers in the testament they gave;
I try to hold the light when times seem grave.
I try to hold the light when times seem grave;
I’ve taught my sons to live and leave no trace.
They walk the woods with eyes on nook and cave;
they see and touch but keep life in its place.
And each small death affects them to their core –
the pain of knowing what they cannot change –
a hatchling fallen to the forest floor,
the hunter’s gun reporting within range.
What boy afield will leave a claim they find;
you’d think that they were playing for their lives.
At times it takes another to remind
them not to carve in trees with pocket knives;
though when my faith in boys begins to lag,
I think of Scouts retiring a flag.
I think of Scouts retiring a flag,
the solemn nature of the night’s event:
a Vet recaps his service, shares his tags;
they stand in lines, serene before their tents.
Then two rows meet to hold the flag aloft,
they’re careful to avoid the campfire’s flame
until the leader cuts the stripes from cloth
and lowers all to fire in Honor’s name.
It’s back to play when ceremony’s through,
to gaga ball and arrows they will slink.
To mud and sticks and S’mores they’re standing true;
I watch and smile but cannot help to think,
as Scouts invade the woods and have their fun,
we can’t neglect the other boys with guns.
We can’t neglect the other boys with guns,
the ones with fear and anger in their hearts:
our Cruz and Lanza – all the other ones –
who’ve cut short lives before they really start.
We blame their moms, their brains, their shooter games,
their truant fathers rarely on the scene;
their manifestos make the news, their fame –
I want to tell my sons it’s make-believe.
They’ll come of age in this new hellish norm,
a time when Washington won’t take a stand,
and who’s to guess what ghoulish thoughts take form
as boys decipher how to be a man?
This year the kids have taken on the fight;
some days we live in shadow, some in light.
VII. Shadow & Light
Some days we live in shadow, some in light;
and surely other mothers feel the same?
I’m not the only one to toss at night
in dread of men and boys I cannot tame.
A toddler threatens suicide, a teen
may run away; they seek adventure from
the internet in tales I’ve never dreamed.
They know if need arises I will come,
from mothers boys are never really free.
It’s true, I’ll look at them from time to time
and wonder how these beings came from me;
though even when their moods sway on a dime,
I like to think we truly are in tune –
I hold them – swinging on the porch in June.
* * * * *
"Light & Shadow, Shadow & Light" is the title poem of the author's poetry collection by Main Street Rag (2018).
Hayley Mitchell Haugen holds a Ph.D. in 20th Century American Literature from Ohio University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. She is currently an Associate Professor of English at Ohio University Southern, where she teaches courses in composition, American literature, and creative writing. Her chapbook What the Grimm Girl Looks Forward To appears from Finishing Line Press (2016), and poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Rattle, Slant, Spillway, Chiron Review, Verse Virtual and many other journals. Light & Shadow, Shadow & Light from Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2018) is her first full-length collection. She edits Sheila-Na-Gig online: https://sheilanagigblog.com/ and Sheila-Na-Gig Editions.