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.

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?



Denise Duhamel


Whenever someone mentioned the word,

I first thought of


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.