Lauren Schmidt’s work may be found or is forthcoming in The Progressive, Alaska Quarterly Review, New York Quarterly, Rattle, Nimrod, Main Street Rag, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Ekphrasis Journal, and others. Her poems have been selected as finalists for the 2008 and 2009 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize for
Poetry, the 2010 Dancing Girl Press Chapbook Contest, and she was awarded first place in the So to Speak Poetry Prize. In November 2009, Lauren was forced to resign from her high school teaching position for the publication of her poetry. She teaches writing at Brookdale Community College in her native New Jersey as a result.
His last name could have been Albatross—
the shot-dead bird slung around the Mariner’s neck—
because my neighbor was a burden like that.
He wore the thickness of winter in his waistband.
Freckles peppered his cheeks as if his chest
were struck with a stiff stream of blood.
His hair was the color of rust and kinked like little claws.
But his name was Alba, a name that meant his hair
could be confused with the color of dawn. Not
this boy, though. No wonder, then, why he could not
keep a distance from my brother, not even at age fifteen,
not even when he pushed a snow-blower to kill
the work in half the time. For an hour, snow flurried
from their machines and smothered the morning light.
I got the call from the woman who already paid the boys
their fee. Panic gagged her as she struggled to make words
through the neck of the phone, a neck gripped so tightly
it was as if she meant to choke off its reception, having seen
what I did not. I did not see the poinsettia heads rupture
from my brother’s leg. I did not see blood soak snow
into an orb of angry sun. I did not see muscle fray
like worn denim or the exposed and frightened bone, white
on white snow, and when a scream slung from the bow
of my brother’s body, I did not see Alba,
the way my brother did, standing there, slumped
and stunned, and free of blood. Another centimeter
deeper and the tendon named for a Greek hero
would have snapped like wire and curled upwards in a hook.
This morning, his daughter discovers the scar,
fingers the tree bark of corrective skin. Bewilderment
worms along her brow, eyes widen their snowflake-
white. It was an accident, he says, shrugging. And I wonder
how my brother didn’t hear Alba’s engine snarl, or feel
how stealthily it stalked behind him. I wonder how
he didn’t know it was there, always there—
this rotted machine hawking at his heels—a kind of love
with a blade so sharp that the slit, he said, tickled.