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I mark you archetypes:
Clean-cut fame slut
And earnest, humming wakeboard boy,
All American, what puritan joy!
And please and thankee
No hanky-panky
Do praise the Lord
No Betty Ford
‘Cause I’ve seen the seventies
And heaven, please!
It’s getting dark
And Noah’s Ark
Has got to be coming round
‘Cause that roaring sound
In the western sky
Is the fire next time,

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” -Zen aphorism

Death has parted us from another pop star. Whitney Houston, aged 48, drew her final breath inside a bathtub full of water, her heart finally waving the white flag from a fourth-floor hotel room floating somewhere above the boulevards of Beverly Hills.

They come from bars and frat houses,
Chins sporting the last chug’s dregs;
They’ve shut down the POTUS block
Down lawn chairs! Time to tap the kegs!

“Na na na! Hey hey hey! Goodbye!”
Caught in the unstoppered ear—
Perspective fails the sloppy street
It’s just one terrorist’s career!

What giant wheels when Brezhnev sent
Red troops into Afghanistan;
House of Saud and CIA,
Tipped shots to Charlie Wilson’s plan.

Small town living is always the same, whether it’s in Arkansas, Idaho, or Missouri. Built on the backs of linked story collections like Winesboro, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson and Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, Volt (Graywolf Press) by Alan Heathcock follows the lives of a handful of lost souls, tragedy washing over them like a great flood, people with names like Winslow, and Jorgen, and Vernon. In the fictional town of Krafton, we see what people do when living out in the woods, close to nature. When there’s nothing to do, they make their own fun, picking fights over nothing, running through cornfields, tipping over cows. In a small town, everybody knows everybody, and gets in their business, sometimes to help, and sometimes to enable their own survival.

It was early in the morning.  Lori answered the phone and handed it to me.  My father’s voice.

“Uche…there’s been a terrible…”

“Uche…you should know…”

A pause as gruesome guesswork played through my mind.  I wanted to hear rather than continue imagining, but did I really want to hear?  He drew a constricted breath, and it came in a wave before his voice broke.

“Uche, Chika died tonight.  Imose died tonight.  Little Anya is just barely hanging on…”

Died.  Died.  Barely hanging on.

My nieces.

Mitochondrial DNA is a profound, primeval truth.  As far back as all the creatures we can see with our naked eye, ourselves included, it’s meant that the blueprints for the energy of our lives are passed only through the lines of mothers.  Poetry is all about such profound truths.  Sometimes those truths possess lives in cruel ways.  Sylvia Plath is known as a writer and a woman who killed herself.  Her daughter became a writer.  Her son has just killed himself.  A tragic purification of the mitochondrial line.  It so happens that Sylvia’s imagined rival, mistress of her husband Ted Hughes, and Sylvia’s rival to the dramatic (but not poetically) minded, also killed herself, and her daughter with Hughes.  But that is soap opera, not poetry.