Two Poems by Celeste McMaster

The Rusty Barrel

Above acres of yellow-grey stubble
it stood, eaten through with holes. No one
ever emptied its heavy ash that rose
higher than a small child.

You, my first real boyfriend, were ugly.
You had a big nose, but your black sports car was cool.
Together we fed the barrel
red and green tissue of Christmas,
our chapped hands brushing its burnt-black barrel’s
sienna grit. I, wearing the new pink
cardigan you’d bought me, and with your senior
ring around my neck, struck the match.
My father’s harsh voice, even on Christmas:
Watch the trash. The grass is dry.

We were kissing, for you were good at it, and I
shunned his words, needing to brush them off my skin.

The fire started small, in patches, clumps—
but spread like tails of roosters in a cock fight,
bunch for bunch, then faster,
icy cold air frost from breath
sweat drenching my new sweater
smoke in throat, hair, skin.

We pummeled the ground with brooms
on either side of barbed wire fence.
His rage at me outswept the fire.
We beat it down, this time.
You asked for your ring back.
I boxed up the sweater, unwashed,
still smelling of smoke.

Mama James’s Scissors

She is known
through what is missing.
My great-grandmother James
would chop up her photographs,
editing out body parts she
deemed offensive:

She’d point the tip at an enemy—
a rival beauty or ancestor
who didn’t do right by her.
But most often
an adversarial body part:
flabby arm, disheveled
hair, crinkled sun-grin.

Snip snip snip / slice—

Tidy mother-daughter photo turns
strange: two curly-headed girls
in frilly frocks
suddenly alone,
the stand-in parental’s
head rubbed out,
a white tangle.

Her album discloses
odd assortments of missing limbs:
a war enacted by Mama’s ruthless hands.
Scissors mounted on thick black cardboard,
a blitz of bodies.

I see her bent over
her bright-red screaming carpet.
Sharp prod of scissors
editing her life.

Celeste McMaster
has published poetry and fiction in Short Story, The Dos Passos Review, Mslexia, New Delta Review, and Arkansas Review, and is the winner of the 2016 Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction Contest. She teaches writing and literature at Charleston Southern University.


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