Amy Kitchell-Leighty

Punched Their Lives

     
   

The factory
is now closed and empty—
a cicada clutching to the bark
of a tree.  Every day he left his
truck parked on the lot, walked
inside a building that knew him,
knew his ideas of owning
a business, his thoughts of
remodeling our home. 
The building lies
stretched out like two muscled
arms.  At one time it was filled
with machines and middle aged
men and women who assembled
automobile seats. They punched
their lives on a time card.  
Some days we picked my father
up from work and watched the people
spill out—some hurried out
anxious to see their families,
or anxious to see a bar. 
My father carried a bucket,
a thermos, and dirt on his jeans—
a Lucky Strike caught
between two callused fingers
with a speck of white paper
from the unfiltered cigarette
hanging from his lip.  He
always left a little bit
of coffee in that thermos
and I sipped it savoring
the cool, sugary drink
that tasted the same every day.    

     
         
 

Saran Wrap & Napalm

     
   

Women in housedresses and aprons
blocked trucks carrying napalm, protested
Saran Wrap since the same company,
Dow, made both. They packed
lunches for husbands and children,

cleaned up breakfast dishes, then set off
to stop this chemical from being sent. 
Perhaps these women had sons
in Viet Nam—right out of high school
they only knew cars and hard-ons.  Or maybe

their husbands were over there and there were no
lunches to pack or plates to clean.  Saran Wrap.
It’s in my refrigerator right now covering my potato salad. 
It’s silky transparence glides over the tops
of cupcakes, cocoons a pork chop in a matter of seconds,

wraps a toilet bowl for a night time prank, and, supposedly,
if you swathe your entire body in it, you can lose weight
or die of body suffocation (I’ve heard both).  I have
read that napalm—excuse me fireballs—were used
in the fight in Iraq.  This chemical that sticks

to your skin as it burns you to death. 
And it’s not a great way to die but it’s very effective
psychologically.  So they say.  I have a picture
of this Vietnamese boy—maybe four—
my copy is in black and white.  There is no date.

His left arm is gone, right hand a stump.  He sits
with his left ankle propped on his right thigh
the way my father used to sit on Sunday mornings
drinking coffee, smoke encircling his face,
Keith Whitley on the radio.  Holes the size of a

half-dollar and bigger are seared onto this child’s
skin; smaller spots dot his cheeks.  He’s not smiling.
He’s not frowning.  I don’t think his parents
are alive.  And his eyes burn through this photo
into mine asking questions I don’t want to answer.     

     
         
 

That Was Then

for my mother
     
   

That was back when
she was happy.  That was
when she wore dresses. 
She fed us: fried chicken

and deep dish chocolate
brownies.  And whose turn
was it to set the table?  Fork
on left, sharp edge of knife

facing plate.  And which one
cleared?  She washed
our clothes.  She drove us
to practices. Counting bills,

counting miles, counting days
in a month.  Her foot waiting
to break as she counted
on those tarot cards

grandmother read her.  We
drove on together, our hair
blowing back from the open
windows, none of us knowing.

     
         
 

Ritual

     
   

When the men in my neighborhood retire
they become pyromaniacs.  Each man taking
turns lighting up their fire pits and sending

a stream of smoke through my windows. 
Day or night they light up the air with the strike
of a match.  From the sky you would see

spotted yards of red and orange and think,
perhaps, a sacrifice was being made below. 
I watch the men walk back and forth—in their

overalls or blue jeans—out of garages, out of attics
picking and choosing what gets thrown in
and what doesn’t—a dead wife’s gravy boat, a

high school yearbook, a winter coat
with the front pocket torn.  Once I saw
a single black tire get tossed in

like a life float being thrown into water
as if to rally ‘round the burning items. 
These men, retired from factories and car dealerships,

erase their pasts, creating a world where
these people, these things never existed.  
My grandmother did this now that I think

about it.  A few years before she died
she boxed up all her first son’s Navy medals
and photos, walked the box up to the burn pile,

and threw it in.  Burnt it to ashes.  Uncle Bob
was living out west at the time, enjoying his new
girlfriend unaware his mother had chosen to remove him.

     
 
      return to poetry
 

Amy Kitchell-Leighty holds her MFA from Bennington College. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Bellevue Literary Review, Unrorean, Salamander, Coachella Review and many others. Her poetry manuscript, Ghost Babies, is awaiting results for publication. In addition to poetry, she writes young adult stories and is working on her first true crime about an unsolved murder that took place in 1972. Amy teaches in southeastern Illinois at a local college and at a men’s prison.