Poem of the Week | May 14, 2018

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by H.R. Webster. Webster is a 2017-2018 Poetry Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, The Seattle Review, Ecotone, and other journals. You can find her work at www.hrwebster.com.

Webster was a finalist for the Missouri Review‘s 2017 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize.

Romulus & Remus

here they are
you were ready
for them they brought
a belly full
of ground-apples & wars
fought over
women I mean women
whose bodies could
make armies


let’s name some
shitty little towns
after them let’s build
a gun range a Frostee Boy
a muffler shop let’s drink
in the parking lot drive
home tie carnations
and a teddy bear
to the telephone pole let’s watch
it flush with mushrooms
after rain let’s buy a menthol pack


here they are suckled
by Snowflake the pit

she has killed so many dogs

neck sound sound
of us waiting for her
next sound
like night insects rubbing
together she takes
your wrist
her mouth gentle as a lost shoe


they brought an iron plow
with them they have
already forgotten

how to fix it
if it breaks
when it breaks


suckled by Snowflake
she eats bread
brought for the ducks
at the quarry the boys
line up they whistle
across casing from a .22


here they are speaking
secret twin language
up all night
on the baby monitor speaking
secret twin language

on the soccer field all
the other boys are lonely
when they see them lonely
in a way they didn’t figure
they would be no one
told them about


here they are their mouths
muscular with sadness
here they are the water
green and closed
through the sumac


Romulus picks up
Remus’s prom date

see if she notices
Snowflake growls carnations
don’t smell wild orchids
don’t smell like anything
he ties the ribbon
with his teeth


still a little bitter
milk on their breaths still
can’t be left alone
with the lambs
still pockets full
of bricks in case
a city needs making

still rape a little still

count birds still venison
from the trunk of a car
still gauged ears
to tell them apart still the rope
swing on a dead branch
by which I mean limb by which
I mean here they are
you were ready for their deaths

their limb from
limb from limb from limb

Author’s Note:

“Romulus & Remus” was written during a summer in Southeast Michigan. For those who have ever flown into Detroit, the airport is actually in a little strip-mall lined town named Romulus where I learned to shoot a gun and ate soft-serve that summer. “Romulus & Remus” is part of a longer project exploring my obsession (and a larger cultural obsession) with the stories of feral children, and how they have shaped the ways we think about language, empathy, and relationships with loneliness.

I had been tutoring football players at the University of Michigan that spring, and reacquainting myself with the Livy’s Urbe Condita Libri. The stakes of the conversations I was having with these young men about the Rape of the Sabine Women felt incredibly high. We were never just talking about the meaning of rape in the context of ancient law, but always in small ways considering the meaning of rape in the context of their lives as star athletes at a large university. It wasn’t until the summer began that I felt able to unpack those ideas about sexual violence, language, and adolescence into the particular Midwest I was occupying at that moment: the secret social worlds of swimming holes, parking lots, and squat houses in neighborhoods occupied by bands of wild dogs.