Two Poems

You Go on Ahead, I’ll Wait Here

— written the summer of Elizabeth Smart and Alexis Patterson

My son takes two crayons
stuffs one in each nostril
and looking up at me (drying dishes)
scrunches his upper lip
to bare his not-so-scary
top baby teeth and say,
"Look, Mama!
There's a walrus in the house."
I laugh
but then the sight of Burnt Sienna, Brick Red sticks
jammed in the flesh of his face
cause me to look to the empty chair beside him.

Following my eyes he says quickly,
"What did the hat rack say to the hat?"
I shake my head and shrug my shoulders
though my eyes remain fixed on that chair
and he blurts out, "You go on a head. I'll wait here."

How can I laugh
when my daughter is still missing, perhaps
ground to pieces in a field
drowned at the bottom of a pond
strangled and stuffed in a trunk?

Revenge eats a hole in my stomach.
Swallows each day
while I wait
at a time.

This time
in my mind
I catch her attacker
just as he begins to tighten
the scarf around her thin neck.
I grab the paring knife from the counter—
I grab the bread knife with its long, serrated edge
from the cutting block
and stab him in the back
pushing down on the blade in a sawing motion
until his kidney shears and he drops
like a stone and my little baby cries, "Mama!"
and I am her hero.

But no matter how many ways I imagine it
day after day goes by.
And my young son needs a haircut.

And someone to laugh at his jokes.

How It Starts

You’re ten years old
and playing with the older
middle school kids
first its Hide-and-Seek
and then maybe Jail Break
and before long
Tag becomes
Gorilla Tag—
that game
in which each boy chases a girl
tackles her
then quickly feels up her shirt
and down her pants
before jumping up
to tackle the next girl
in a sort of round-robin
assault contest
you forget about
until years later in college
when you’re watching a film in biology class
on the violent nature
of ground squirrel mating behavior
each male squirrel on the big screen chasing
and pouncing
on each female squirrel
one after another
copulating in such a harsh way
as to remove the plug left in each
vagina by the previous male
the squirrels’ calls like screams
penetrating you
to your core
so you have to excuse yourself
and scurry to the rest room
the pink tile on the wall
cool against your forehead     
as you remember what it felt like
to be pinned to the ground
unable to breathe
or pull your arms in

Looking back
it wasn’t the worst
just the first
of many assaults
you recall
as you watch the professor testify
against the Supreme Court nominee—
a tear running down your cheek
for every one of them


Elisabeth Harrahy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater.  Her poems have appeared in Slightly West, Phoebe: Journal of Gender and Cultural Critiques, Wisconsin People and Ideas and Blue Heron Review.