Helen of Troy Battles Southern Hospitality

Two poems by Maria Zoccola

Helen of Troy Battles Southern Hospitality

helen of troy makes peace with the kudzu

my father foxholed me in the lee of the porch, 
gloved and hungry, ready for battle, 
straining at the leash until he launched me 
into the yearly war. i sprang at them, 
the tendrils threatening the house, 
the little questing outriders opening
their mouths to eat. i yanked them. 
i hurt them. i beat them back, 
arms streaked with dirt, following their line 
to the great press of the mother-vine, 
the carpet of vegetation toppling our fences, 
creeping along in inches, in yards. 
the blanket of it. the smother. i tell you 
i was raised among all breeds of weapon—
hand trowels and knife-blade shovels, 
weedeaters, hedge trimmers, chemicals 
in ranks of deadliness, their attendant 
nozzles and hoses, and so when i tell you
i became myself a single sharp edge,
perhaps you’ll hold in your mind the crèche 
that honed me. an animal hunger. 
a green grasp with shadow beneath, 
a moving thing fed on new gulps of land. 
i walked out into the mass of it, boots 
to my knees against the coiled mines 
of copperheads, my mother behind me,
watching the sky for a white spread
of wings. i grew my whole life in a house 
death longed to touch with one soft finger, 
and when i looked out at the building wave, 
i thought, do it. the world around me 
hunkered under the wrong spread of life, 
and yet i saw that it was living, 
edges softened, blanks filled in—a sphere 
that begged my absence, that collected 
my childhood in its outstretched hands 
and pushed it under the skin of itself, 
hidden and repurposed, folded away, 
breathing gently under combs of wind. 


helen of troy feuds with the neighborhood

if you never owned a bone-sharp biography,
i don’t want to hear it. if you didn’t slide
from the house at night to roll 4-wheelers
out the shed, if you didn’t catch branches
on your cheeks and flip the beast 
in a mud rut, go down yelling, come up
laughing, if you didn’t roar the woods 
with star-love brothers, with blood-wait sister,
squinting through pine dirt, through cobweb,
through creatures with fur that explode 
into wings, through devils with fins 
that grow legs and run. through boys 
who become brutes and become boys again. 
through girls who die 
and stay that way. if you didn’t see a swan 
become a wolf. if you didn’t see a wolf 
clamp teeth around a swan. if you didn’t
go away and come back again,
helen judas, helen stranger, trojan helen,
helen of the outside. if you didn’t limp
your way home, dark house, door sealed tight, 
all the street with eyes sewn shut,
i don’t want to hear it. i want you silent. 
i want you listening to me. 

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