Kathleen Hellen

Field guide to the dishes

I bent my mind to it. The signature design
the shell’s
          progression, the dishes closing in

Ware pervious. Improbably white
I hid within the fingerprint of disappointment
Mimicked apron, grace

the red idea of fruit. I set my table like a troubled space—
relics of a marriage, gift—chipped
hidden in the better of the set

like shells after the cutting of the tip
as in practices of mutilation—wampum, hair pipe, dig—



64 hexagrams, 64 permutations

Hard absence after Durbin. I’d asked how many others—
that smoky voice that answered like a knife in the belly.
A hotel room. A kangaroo. I called every hour, every half,
the cell phone going mad like Bergman in the gaslight.
—Preponderance of the small.

Subject line: Retrospection.
He says my notes and cards are treasures,
like photos he protects, his dad's Masonic bible. Precious
to him now, and yet the I Ching says
                              —It is only by retirement we spare humiliation.
What’s after separations? New Year’s resolutions
gone bad, roses and carnations? You will always be…
he says…. We both knew he was lying, a little at a time

like dying.

          —Splitting apart
                    —The abysmal
He says in me he senses a desire. What he means:
The cell phone’s got lousy reception, and all he’s had to eat
is mashed potatoes—Influence wooing
Wolf lies.

He says he’s headed to the Delta. A ride-along to hit the music spots,
stay in nice hotels. He’ll call me when he’s back in town, in Richmond.

Tonight I watch Now,Voyager.
“Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask
for the moon.”
—Work on what has been spoiled.


Kathleen Hellen is the author of the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night published by Washington Writers’ Publishing House and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her poems are widely published and have appeared recently or are forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, North American Review, Poetry East, Poetry Daily, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Witness, and elsewhere. Recipient of the Thomas Merton poetry prize and twice nominated for the Pushcart, she teaches in Baltimore.