The National Poetry Review

Emily Koehn

ARBORETUM BY THE FREEWAY AFTER SHE WAS KILLED

The pine needle has a color deeper
than you’ve felt. If you reached to swat

the needles you’d want to hold them
all week as a reminder how you crave

this: here: by trees: this pond: lily pads
and two turtles coupling on a log, basking

in heat. The highway noise in the distance
rushes but really right here, motors in your ear.

You’re only half in shade by the pond, and now,
the quick thickness of swarm, noise

so much you want the mosquito legs mashed
into pulp, and you can finally think. A pond

is riddled with violence. A guy reading his book
alone by the pond won’t look at you. And you know

any day can head south just like that, a bit
of grey sky, a guy you don’t know, and he

doesn’t know you. For the cars, too,
in this city’s heat sound an alarm going off

and you can’t focus, stop it, this pond’s
own quiet green noise an undercurrent to it all.

When you start to call out for the man, Talk to me,
get me out of my mind
you see he’s not a man at all

but a child, glaring, book thrown now, a child
about to fall in, drown, staring at the turtles,

shells that break apart if only he could throw
a rock hard enough. Dammit: just stare in grief

or is it trust with the child for hours at the bright
red marks on the sides of the turtleheads basking.


EMILY KOEHN’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Fence, Painted Bride Quarterly, Crazyhorse, Bellingham Review, Vinyl, Tinderbox, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, CutBank, and other journals. Her work has been nominated for the Best New Poets series and two Pushcart Prizes. She grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, received her MFA from Purdue University, and currently lives in St. Louis.

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