Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

[Two Poems]

by Debbie Hall


Budget cuts have closed the shelter
earlier than usual and the homeless
have been discarded tonight.
The chance of rain is only moderate
and a spring thaw is forecast. 
A wood pallet under a freeway overpass
can keep a body dry at night.

She’s seen it before—
the economic downturns—the soup’s thinner,
the lines longer, and a fight breaks out
over a trashcan full of empty soda cans.
She sighs and shuffles forward,
the crackles in her chest more audible this year
as she breathes in, and out. 

She remembers when they emptied
the state hospitals—more humane, they said.
Let the insane walk freely among the rest
and get their care from local dispensaries
of mental health, which never appeared.
Their ranks grew on the street
and care came from small bottles of booze
sheathed in paper sacks. The extra voices
in their heads joined the murmuring
around the trashcan fires, finding strength in the crowd.

She likes listening to the vets tell their stories
of serving their nation. She closes her eyes
and imagines she’s in the jungle with them; the icy rain
wetting her eyes becomes a warm mist
borne of tropical air. The oil stains
on her frayed overcoat transform into camouflage,
as distant thunder becomes the sound of
rockets landing on rooftops.

Ah, but she’s seventy now and needs to sleep.
She brushes wet leaves off the park bench,
spreads her bedroll across warped wooden boards
and makes a wad of plastic bags for her head.
Before turning in, she collects the detritus
of the day’s leftovers for her breakfast tomorrow.


What We Feared

When we were babies we feared wet diapers,
creamed peas, sloppy kisses from maiden aunts,
being thrown into the air like beach balls,
alligators biting off our toes in the middle of the night,
and we feared that all clowns were actually
one-eyed monsters under their huge scarlet smiles.

At 10 we became afraid of duck-and-cover drills,
being stabbed by Alfred Hitchcock’s birds,
getting trapped inside Lawrence Welk’s bubble machine,
the rheumy eyes and puffy hands of the drugstore clerk,
of losing our swimsuit bottoms to a particularly ferocious
ocean wave, being flat chested forever,
and of being the only ones to survive the nuclear explosion.

When we were 20 we feared short hair on men,
being asked to a Tupperware party, sororities,
of failing Physical Science for the third and last time, capitalism,
of discovering we were actually the bastard child of George Wallace
and Anita Bryant, white boys who couldn’t dance, black girls who hated
our guts, Molotov cocktails, and disappointing our parents
by dealing cards in the local card room
instead of teaching English in a nice suburban high school.

At 30 we feared polyester shirts, dark hairy chests
with gold chains, and techno pop. We were repelled by
Mary Kay and pink Cadillacs, of being liberated but unmarried
women, biological clocks, of Ronald Reagan, being French Kissed by men
drenched in Old Spice, and of being addressed as “Ma’am.”

When we became 40, we were scared of losing relevance,
that we had failed to discover our true life’s calling,
of sprawling suburban subdivisions, the Mall of America,
of coyotes snatching small poodles from manicured lawns,
ozone, and of being courted only by State Farm Insurance men.

At 50, we feared time itself. We were deeply frightened that our
marital prospects were limited to small, balding men wearing fishing hats.
We feared lacking a shared narrative with our college students, of blank
stares when we mentioned John Kennedy, Vietnam and the Black Panthers.
We were terrified that Barbie had become a cultural icon.

As we approach 60, we are afraid of nearly everything: tsunamis,
home-grown terrorists, bedbug infestations, rising cholesterol, knee
replacements, that Silly String will fail to locate all of the IEDs, Sarah Palin,
aging into invisibility, our hybrid Toyotas crashing over the median strip
into a Hummer driven by Arnold Schwarzenegger; eating meat, eggs, or
salad greens harvested in Mexico; uneven sidewalks, flying, being an ethnic
minority, being called “Dear” by handsome young men, artificial lawns, and
the word passé.

As we look ahead, we fear most a day when we might relinquish fear,
leave our shoes off, and settle face first into the wet sand
under the 10th Street pier on a foggy New Year’s Eve.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Debbie Hall

is a writer whose poetry has appeared in City Works 2009 Literary Journal and San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology (Volume 5); and whose essays have appeared on NPR (This I Believe series), and in USD Magazine and the San Diego Union Tribune. She works as a pediatric psychologist at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego, California.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury