Self-Portrait as Milk Hare in Active Shooter Alert
Traci BrimhallPoetry / Number 95
We plan our escape from our basement classroom.
My students share memories of school shooter drills.
I share what police advise—run. Trees blush and undress,
but the scratching outside our window is not the dead
we fear to be. Today in the news I read rediscovered stories
collected by Irish schoolchildren of household medicine
and hags who became rabbits to lap milk from cows, though
I don’t know why a witch would need to, why she couldn’t say
I’m a mother like you, hold her own cream in her cupped palm
for the cow’s rough tongue, and ask for the kindness returned.
The moon occults the stars in Taurus, and my son performs
his sadness over an otter that died at the zoo. He blinks slow
and sniffles back octaves of salt. I don’t know where he learned
to do this, to be an understudy to the keening of trees planted
too close to houses. I read him Runaway Bunny and say I would
chase him though all his transformations—be the gardener
to his crocus, the wind to his sailing ship, the tightrope walker
when he learns the trapeze so we can both be creatures of air.
One student says we can use him as a stool to climb from
the window well to the lawn. I am glad someone wants to die
for the rest of us. I don’t want to give my son a hero
for a mother. I want to go home to him. I want him to lose me
after years of hugs, arguments, and medically acceptable suffering,
and I would take this student’s offering to leap from his back,
like the milk-hare a farmer shot, and then went to confront
his neighbor for stealing, only to find her in bed, human again,
holding her bleeding head. The farmer warned her thirsty tongue
though he knew, as everyone did, that bullets won’t kill witches.
I will not die for these students. Or kill for them. I would draw
on whiskers and pull myself from this concrete burrow, dodge
cracks in the air, aim for the gentle corrections of trees’ shadows.
My body small enough for hiding. My ears so large they can hear
my name in my son’s prayer—red as the fear that will keep me
on earth, black as blood in moonlight, in the fur that twitches back
to skin again, my son’s arms safely around my neck, his milkteeth
and bubblegum cheeks breathing, breathing, oh, still alive.
Traci Brimhall is the author of three collections of poetry: Saudade (Copper Canyon Press), Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton), and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press). Her next collection, a hybrid of essays and poems, Come the Slumberless from the Land of Nod is forthcoming from Copper Canyon in 2020. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Slate, The Believer, The New Republic, Orion, and Best American Poetry 2013 & 2014. She’s received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Kansas State University.Image by Jason Leung