by sean Kelbley
Oma’s farm lay flat beside a glass-green river,
30 miles from Toledo. She said it looked like home.
And where was home? It was the summer
that my parents needed time alone. Batschka,
Oma said, and ran her palms across her face
as if to smooth a map. At the center of the map,
her eyes burned like specific villages.
By morning, they were light suffused through
balsam needles. Oma said, I had two brothers,
little brothers. The army take them. Lose them.
She sliced the warm brown bread with her specific
slicing knife, blade set parallel to wooden handle
like a violinist’s bow. She buttered slices with
her rounded buttering knife. But for paprikash,
a chicken had to die. She caught the rooster
that had chased and pecked me, bound his talons,
hung him from a low branch in the dooryard,
upside-down. Slit his throat—this with a knife
I’d never seen. Some times are bad, she said.
Her eyes went dark and far away. Neighbors bad.
Russians bad. Then she turned
and smiled at me, and wiped the killing knife
across the daisies on her apron, and went inside
to put it in its special place. It was the day my
parents came to take me back. I watched the rooster
spurt and drain. We ate him and drove home.
In September, teacher said I had to use a real
country for “My Family Tree.” Mom said
Hungary. Dad said Yugoslavia, but by then
it wasn’t real, either, anymore. Teacher said
Put Germany. It’s what she spoke. But I put
Batschka. Blood-red Magic Marker.
There are knives for slicing bread, for buttering,
for slitting throats—each knife specific
to its purpose. Anyway, you asked me
how I choose my words.
Raised in rural Ohio and on the Maine seacoast, Sean Kelbley lives on a 330-acre farm in southeastern Ohio, in a house he and his husband built themselves. He works as an elementary school counselor. Sean began submitting poetry for publication in 2017. Since then, his poems have appeared at a number of fine places including Crab Creek Review, New Verse News, One, Poets Reading the News, RATTLE, Rise Up Review (2017 Best of the Net nomination), and have been recognized in contests at Midwest Review, Still: The Journal, and the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society.