Judith Quaempts

Beyond This Point Lie Demons

The rush of noon begins.
You are between 19th and M,
hurrying to the Greek take-out for lunch.
How could you know the man would choose
that moment to come from the alley?
Dressed in rags, hands grabbing air,
he heads for you.

Passers-by keep walking,
pretending not to see, and you,
your knees shaking,
will yourself forward,
praying he’ll let you by.
But then an urge just takes you.
You look – really look – at him.
What you see punches a hole through your heart.
Without realizing, you reach out.

You aren’t prepared for his reaction.

“No, Momma, No!” he screams, as though
you just burned him and backs away,
leaving your eyes to follow.
You try not to see the cardboard box,
try not to breathe the garbage nearby,
try not to see how he sways,
how dazed his eyes are,
and think of that slaughterhouse steer
you saw on TV, beaten and shocked
when it couldn’t stand up.

His eyes… why can’t you let go of his eyes?

One week later you pass that way again.
You risk a look; see nothing but a flattened box.
Ventilator shafts climb past blank windows,
and twelve stories up, an indifferent sky
looks back at you.

Judith Quaempts © 2010

Good Catholic Girl – Circa 1950

Moira O’Shea.
Bless her heart.
Ten children,
a husband who beats her.
A loud-mouthed bantam man
a pain-in-the-arse drunk
who turns her skin blue
every weekend.

‘T’is your burden
to bear, Moira dear’
her priest says,
‘Offer it up to Him
Who died for your sins.’

At times she thinks
with a guilty twinge
that HE had only one bad day
while hers run into the hundreds.

But Moira O’Shea
doesn’t complain.
She’s a good Catholic girl
brought up to obey.

Besides, who’d take her in,
poor Moira O’Shea, her
with all them mouths to feed?

Teaching Demons to Sing

On a sunless morning
too warm for December
he paces, mumbling.

Huddled on a secondhand couch
his wife and children
wait for what’s coming.

His hands clench, unclench,
flex and flurry. Words…
stupid bitch…good for nothing…

and the children so quiet,
the woman barely breathing,
her shoulders hunched,

fingers twisting.
On a sunless morning
too warm for December

he picks up a gun
and the waiting is over.

Judith Quaempts © 2010