Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005),Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001), The Star-Spangled Banner (winner of the Crab Orchard Award, SIU Press, 1999) and Kinky (Orchises Press, 1997). Her work with Maureen Seaton was published in CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2015. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenhiem Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Duhamel is a professor at Florida International University in Miami.
“Violence is born of the desire to escape oneself.”—Iris Murdoch
Our drones, called Predator and Reaper,
have killed at least four hundred civilians
as they wiped out “extremists,” life cheaper
in the Middle East. In D.C., sleeper
cells sleep. It costs up to fourteen million
to make one drone, Predator or Reaper.
Our strikes kill mothers, their kids, street sweepers,
and hurried shoppers at spice pavilions.
Are we the “extremists?” Sure, it’s cheaper
to “put boots on the ground,” but beleaguered
soldiers tire like small town vaudevillians
while our drones, Predator and Reaper,
are jazzed golems. Like a beekeeper,
a human pilot sets each drone’s mission
to wipe out “extremists.” Honey’s cheaper
without pollen, drones kept from the deeper
hives—honey, just a sweet shenanigan,
sans bees. What if Predator and Reaper
wipeout, crushing Phoenix? Will birds still cheep?
Whenever someone mentioned the word,
I first thought of amazon.com
even though I was in the real Amazon
canoeing in a lagoon under a glimpse of moon.
I held the tiny flashlight I’d bought online
though in truth the guide did all the hard work
paddling and winking his own light twice
whenever he sensed something—bats, prehistoric
wild turkeys, Potoos who lay their eggs
in tree crooks. Each startling wing-whoosh.
The melon-sized bullfrog looked red in the dark.
We were there to see the glowworm’s larvae
dazzle the night, like strands of twinkle lights
festooned in their own geometry. Before I’d left home
I read an essay by Arielle Greenberg—the ethical
travel poem is perhaps the most difficult to write.
I’d read about Chevron’s “Rainforest
Chernobyl,” dumping toxins into rivers
people use for bathing. I spritzed myself
with DEET which couldn’t have been good
for the ecosystem. I wondered about
the folly of the first European settlers
in this land of leeches and mosquitoes,
overgrown boughs dipping into tributaries,
monkeys leaping above, branch to branch—
on land, nests of flesh-eating ants.
I wondered about my own folly, my surprise
at nocturnal jungle sounds, nothing like white noise
machine settings. I jumped at each screech,
hiss, squawk, and chirp amplified in my cabin.
I had a net under which I could sleep and rubber
boots to protect me from snake bites,
but if you can believe Francisco de Orellana,
Amazon women warriors controlled the place
in 1541. He was looking for gold, and the warriors
let him pass, knowing he would only find rain
and disease. Now if you search Amazon
your first Google pages will list the store,
which makes a goldmine, appropriating
the name of Greek women warriors,
who supposedly cauterized their right breasts
to mesh with their bows, to be better able to shoot
arrows. Francisco de Orellana also appropriated
their name in South America. Some say
these Amazons were “Virgins of the Sun,” Incas
fleeing the rape of other Spanish conquerors
to the north. I was fleeing nothing, only fulfilling
a childhood Tarzan and Jane dream. Wanting
an experience, the ultimate cliché. Wanting
to write what I saw and wanting you to read,
even while acknowledging words are slippery
as mud covering the primary forest
where we’d hiked earlier in the day,
where we were too unsteady to even dare
take out our cameras. Where the earth
was taunting us, Co-opt this. Not one tourist
was able to capture the glowworms either,
the awe and ecstasy we felt flickering in nature
or, rather, our nature flickering in us. We tried
using our oohs and similes, the larvae radiant
as the vending machine of Coke glowing
back at the lodge. The larvae radiant
as an Amazonian marquee. Drunk on beauty,
someone said the larvae sparkled like Chablis.
The guide who spoke the most English said yes,
but the Amazon is not what it used to be.
You were never born, never conceived
but for my tame imagination—
my worst traits coupled with a lover’s genes,
his ugly temper, my food allergies.
No chance to rebel, prodigal son,
since you were never born, never conceived.
No daughter to replicate my pet peeves,
no Snow White to hate me in the long run.
I never coupled with another’s genes—
my vanity and insecurity,
his bravado and love of tommy guns—
you were never born, never conceived.
No cravings, no maternity leave.
My oven never concocted a bun
made of my worst traits and a lover’s genes.
You’ll never be told, Grow up, you’re naive.
You’ll never be taunted, never be shunned.
You were never born, never conceived.
I cursed all my dates. I buttoned my jeans.