Issue > Poetry
Laura Van Prooyen

Laura Van Prooyen

Laura Van Prooyen is author of two collections of poetry, Our House Was on Fire (Ashland Poetry Press) nominated by Philip Levine and winner of the McGovern Prize and Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press). She is also co-author with Gretchen Bernabei of Text Structures from Poetry, a book of writing lessons for educators of grades 4-12 (Corwin Literacy 2020). Van Prooyen teaches in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program at Miami University, and she lives in San Antonio, TX.

Parting the Dome of Dark Skies

Mother, forget the way things look now—
for we both know

that when whatever it is
lifts the veil
there will be no astro-turfed yard, no neighbors

not the split-trunk
of your father's maple
grown through the chain-link.

I've seen it too:
the black curtain, corners blown up.

Wind teases the edge,
but the planter at the corner of your lot
holds it down.

Let's not let the world fool us
with its presence.

Let's go into that absence

like the most remote part of West Texas,
where we might sit
with rocks and stillness

under the star-pocked
dome of darkness, far from

cities and loves and sources
of light, molecules

bouncing in our ears,
in a silence that hurts to hear.

Inflammation of the Nerves

it's just a case of shingles             latent virus        

re-activated           in the body      

     in memory              how do you define

           dead?  what kind

of answer is a shingle?  a house

     built on rock, roofed with don't pay them no mind

my arm is hot
          fever shudder           search

search for          cause/treatment        

     cause for    

big rash          small snake         hell's fire       What kind

             of answer is:  "Your father

had shingles. Not too bad. Just covered them up

     till they were gone."

I cover up            

     long-sleeved          secret blisters  

on the nerve road of my left arm          hidden nerve

     virus                all these years in my cell bodies

how do you define    

          silence?            Quiet does not mean

dead         Quiet does not mean        not listening

     activation of the latent virus is poorly understood        

no one knows what triggers the silence

     secrets blister           in 92 degrees and sun    

What kind of answer is:  don't pay them no mind       trigger

     short and long term

sensory                   memory          short and long term


of symptoms limits travel of nerve bodies

                         to the endings of the skin

     endings limit how you define     silence

how you define

complications do not mean quiet       treatment

     does not mean         silence will limit the severity and duration

of damage             the lingering burn

Lilacs Full of Bees

Didn't I just tell this story?
Didn't Frances just clean her gutters?
Didn't she polish her car?
Take a toothbrush to the white-walled tires?

Didn't Frances say, Just a minute?
With what voice?

Didn't she listen to the radio in the dark?
Didn't she have feet?
Didn't she soak them, rub her corned toes?

Who here knows the story?

I remember an organ and hymns
from another time
in another language.

Is a sigh a word? Is a body a word?
Is a tongue the beginning?

I can't undo these questions.

Who remembers the clothesline?
Bleached sheets?
The lilacs full of bees?

Where there's a voice there's an answer.
Didn't Frances say, Don't forget
my hairbrush, my slippers, my teeth

Weren't you there? Weren't you listening?

Didn't Frances have hands?
Didn't you see her nails crusted with dirt?

Don't you hear me? Isn't this your story?



Smoke bomb       thrown in

the fish house
           my brother       gasping      hands

around his neck

                choke choking I jumped

on my Uncle Billy's back
pummeled his back

          the door

open open              
                     my brother!
     behind the fish house

by the guts

my brother

Uncle Billy beer-slurred
                sunburnt squinting


but I was not


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