Extreme Villanelle

Denise Duhamel

“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?

 
 

Amazon

Denise Duhamel

 

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.

 

Conceptual Villanelle

Denise Duhamel

 

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.

 

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