Poem of the Week | October 25, 2011

This week we’re proud to post Shara Lessley’s poem, “Test,” from our latest 34.3 issue. Lessley is a former Stegner Fellow. Her awards include an Artist Fellowship from the State of North Carolina, the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, an Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship, the Tickner Fellowship, and a  “Discovery”/The Nation prize. Lessley’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Cincinnati Review and Alaska Quarterly Review, among others. Her collection, Two-Headed Nightingale, is forthcoming from New Issues in 2012.

Author’s Note:

In 2009, my husband and I shared with friends and colleagues news of our then-pending move to the Middle East. Given the region’s political climate and its representation in Western media outlets, our announcement was met with both apprehension and excitement: What would it mean to reside in a constitutional monarchy? How would I fare without speaking Arabic? As expatriates living in Jordan, would we be safe?

Now over a year into our stay in Amman, I continue to confront myths about the Middle East — as well as its realities — on a daily basis. The Explosive Expert’s Wife, the manuscript-in-progress from which these poems are taken, aims not only to examine and dispel the darker fears and prejudices associated with the region (“Advice from the Predecessor’s Wife”), but also to celebrate the beauty and mystery of a place where spring brings black irises and “even the olive trees breathe / green.” The counterparts to such ex-pat poems are those featuring stateside explosive ranges (“Test”), government labs, and American terrorists like Eric Rudolph and the Unabomber.


I know the secret hemispheres of

snow, the turns you take on the road


to the explosives range in the dark.

Miles from our yard morning breaks;


you’re prepping the day’s fourth shot.

Ice melts from the hollowed chestnut,


white in my mouth, white its thorn

of frost. Stained gray with powder,


you crimp a blasting cap, jam it

inside the Claymore mine. The snow-


pack collapses: 700 steel ball-bearings

shattered across the turf. A hawk


sputters overhead, noisy-winged

machine patrolling the smoke-


stripped thickets. Half after three

the sky goes gray. Chill in the air


up my back as the shovel uncovers

a vole frozen on our lawn’s south edge,


its eyes locked in shock, as if caught

in your blast’s last path. I don’t know


where the dead go, only that

you promise to make it home


by supper, the hem of your pants

singed with ash. Down on your knees


surveying the ground – asphalt four feet

deep blasted into parts – you note where


damage takes its greatest toll. In another field,

I dig a cold damp hole. Ice snuffs


the maples, my agitated heart.