Posted by: Rachel Mallino | June 24, 2009

Dysfunctional Batch #9 – Kathleen Hellen

About the (dys)functional poet:
Kathleen’s work has appeared in Barrow Street; Bryant Literary Review; the Cortland Review; the Hollins Critic; Natural Bridge; Nimrod; Poetry International; Prairie Schooner; Runes; Southern Poetry Review; among others. Awards include the Washington Square Review, James Still and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from the state and city.


If My Father Had Died

When the hopper jumped
toppled, dumping freight

it barely missed my father in the little room that was his great
office in the back. He put aside his
counting and

escaped, just in time to imprint
Invisible the cargo hauled for years
He was busy It was summer I was young

Had he died, my mother might have tried a man
who took us all to Disneyland
who played the jazz trombone
in phony wedding bands

instead of coming back
to wreckage on the table
Such love

Disabled. I might have braked had he died
instead of coupling
Another and another of these random
Unavailables. “Easy,” they had said, and I was

I might have railed instead of running
whistled into stops
kept the baby

O, father-lover, when will I grow up?

Skin Remembers

… I inside your burning burn.”
…………….final lines from a notebook— Rilke

Furies roiled, sucking air through vented cuticles of gas—

the jet gone mad; and you
standing at the rage,
bird-legged in your slippers,
curlers in your hair and going
nowhere but the back-and-forth to table.

All the able-waiting on us, simmered under steel,
under cover; over-cooked and soft like new potatoes
blistering in the dented pot that rocked atop the radiant burner

Too close, you said
before I sizzled, skinned like new potatoes. Stuck.
Too much like you. Too hungry. The scar where I connected


I’m sleepy, said the vinyl girl
I shut my eyes
Imagine my surprise inside
my girl-sized head
when lifelike
truer than a sister’s Tiny Tears
she said, Will you play with me?
I did. Or:
Prepare for motherhood
, I think she said:

Dressing, feeding, doing hair
Or: Clean your room. Or:
Your sister is the pretty one


That was in my head
A scalp as plastic as a brain and
punched with roots as dead as hair
Ideal—  in that we always would be cute
No tangles, tears. Just practiced, pre-
recorded and replayable expressions
11 (count them) in the voice of Rocket Squirrel

I pulled the ring again
The vinyl girl said nothing
Her eyes like cold blue marbles
when I dared a different story


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