Five Poems

New Marriage, A Barnraising

What it all comes down to: unpaid
community labor gathered ’round the first

post and best beam. O impossible ark,
built to be grounded, raised by well-

beloved hands. Attendance mandatory
by risk of shunning. Even children have

tools to fetch and sharpen. Some rough hands
welcome only because they must be

offered bread and chicken after a day
of sweat and sun. Young men in rib-rafters

who once watched from hillsides, now
call out to women for water or a smile. What

grins up, squinting, is certainty they long for:
childhood, companionship, the sturdier step

on ground they know, even a body
not one’s own. Each person acts out the expected.

They assemble despite their previous plans. Walls
go up slow but sturdy, shooing debt. Shading

out loneliness. Secured for storage and ready
for life. A frame-work, in the end, they will not

own, these worn-out masses. And still they show up,
willing. Still they gather when the new couple moves

in. Or after a fire. Or after a flood. O urgent love,
come back and see this time next year what stands.

The Piano in Bar-ranca-ber-meja

-for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Colombia

There is one public piano in Barrancabermeja, and my composer husband
has never seen it. On our one-year anniversary, he swears he will eat cake
with his too-sweet Colombian coffee. He swears to love me more
than other things that ask for his return: gray-green jungle, paramilitary
youth with gold-capped molars, the dirty waters
of Rio Magdalena.

Peace needs husbands from everywhere, even
boys from coal country, even composers.
Midst the gunfire and missing, mine
wants to get in the way, to give as much
to beat-up ploughshares as soldiers give
to battle. He learns not to flinch. He shines
up his Spanish, learns to shout “I’m watching!”
the way a Colombian would say it right back
to the eyes in the forest or the planes that drop
their fire onto fields.

I will be here that anniversary, in July’s hot mouth with my own
cake heart, wanting the sound of his heels keeping
the beat upstairs, his music spouting
from splayed-open fingers.

Barrancabermeja’s piano has a legend
like this: once a year, two chosen hands reach out
to sing an audience silent. Its ivory keys become the words
that form a single sentence, different for each member
in the crowd. Some hear, “There’s no forgiveness” when
the music’s finally opened. Others are given, “I should have
had more sons” at the end of a lilting cadence. “Where she is,
she can hear this…” hovers over one woman sitting in the back, just when
crescendos shake through wooden floorboards.

For the rest of the year, the Steinway waits in the city library’s
tired belly. Alleyway salsa or vallenato must rock
Barranca back to sleep. And the green rushes up
in the country. And the river valleys glow with hate
and money. Familias run, petroleum shifts, and red clay is packed
deep into the ground, earth you claim
is so very like ours; here, where you raised two beds before

leaving, for raspberries. Here, where I will drink my morning tea
then lie on your side, our bed like the top of an unopened grand
piano. I will dare you to find the library steps, the waiting
keyboard, dare you to choose, to play out “Come home.”


-for my missionary mother

I am preparing for your resurrection.
On my twenty-fifth birthday, you call from your continent to mine,
just to tell me of the lopsided cupcakes made in my honor, baked in
a new, outside oven (really, a spent refrigerator that now
houses flame.)

For fourteen months, you have been this same voice, a repeated,
four-minute conversation, a soft, silver
place I keep in my belly. There are people in the
streets, you tell me over emails, people coming
to the city to hold their rallies, marches; you can no longer
drive anywhere. Monrovia’s pulsing; its sky
now smells constantly of storm. Here in Ohio, I also

wait for the uprising: your actual fingers, your actual
breath in the room. For fourteen months I have
regrown myself, rethought my routines. I have shaken dirt
from spidery-bony roots, gotten through sometimes—quite frankly—by not
remembering you. Now, the stone

begins to roll away. Over coffee and toast, walking
to work, my stomach twists into
your name. Just yesterday, you wrote
of neighbor children snatched in the night for
sacrifice. It is too hard to believe—
the witch coming to your door, then sensing that
holy armor. It is too much to be given— these
bodies filled with war, even after back roads have absorbed

their dead. Today, I passed what must have been one
hundred turkey vultures, circling over State Street, and I
thought of you in your rainy season. I’m
already packed,
you warbled a month ago, wanted to pretend we were
out together: We have potato chips, glasses of White Zinfandel. We can
talk for hours, can see and touch our smiles!

for fourteen months, you have been picked from my bones.
And now, I must welcome you back from the earth. I must do this, knowing
you will return to the thunderclouds and the children and to
streets holding war. Too soon, you will ask
to be that thin, silver place, and I must simply
let you.

My Father Eats McDonald’s

Again and again the hand (gold-banded) dips into perfectly
salted fries. The other grasps vanilla shake like it’s all that is
left in the world. This happied meal, this reunion with sweet
catsup often filled your Ohio-dreaming-into-humid-West-African-
waking (the dogs and roosters fight early). How
your wife whispers, holding up the half-moon of a burger
like it’s a secret you mustn’t let on that you know. There is silent,
worshipful swallowing. Nodding. The rescue of more fries.

             On long trips into the bush, your team of medics would have no choice
             but to buy dinner from the side of the road. Personally, you’d hope
             for pineapple eaten like candy or peanut bread and roasted corn, hot
             pepper sauce to burn down louder hunger.

But now (even now) you cannot forget
a certain future dinner sitting with you
in the back seat for hours of smelly meditation. “Bush meat”
means any number of things, and the monkey still stares
at you, unblinking, even here in your red plastic
booth. Its hand refuses to stay at the bottom
of the soup bowl.

After the stomach finally settles (two Big Macs and shake
in one sitting), you remember where you’ve been. Where
you’ll soon choose to return. You have taught it all your life, this
clunking guilt: that those who have the most must give
up the most, bite-by-bite, spoonful-by-spoonful. It is the way
we starve ourselves that is important.

Old Order

Nothing new: in my childhood sin sang out
in color, and we always named it black. Fear too
made clear its inky mark. A town, one
thousand faces pale as cheese.

One settler carved a chair for his pale God, dressed
all in white for Second Comings when Christ would
finally sit and rest. He carved his other visions, too: spiraling
fire, talking doves. The chair sits in our museum, never used.

We never thought we’d be the type to stare
at a black Amish boy in line at the Fire-
men’s barbeque. Swiss lips kept in
those hot and silent questions.

Even the soles of their feet were hot, those lovely
West African daughters poured into long-
sleeved cape dresses. A covering got them
in and fed. The black ink did the rest.

They fear the albino inked in white, the girl pursued
by witch doctors. Her eyes worth a full wagon
of rice. Her heart intact? A year of schooling.
At night, she hides in sheets black as their hair.

Black trees on the page, old words still root us. The poet—
you know the one—who carried hungry lilies, dressed all
in white? We hold her hymn-rhythms in secret, word-minnows
wriggling, black ink rising. White words of fire and God,

nothing new. Sin-minnows rise singing, but we catch them
in our clear blue stream. A town, marked and lovely,
one thousand faces tilted towards white sun, and a high
wooden chair built for vision, waiting on the dove.

About the Author

Becca J.R. Lachman

Becca J.R. LachmanBecca J.R. Lachman's songs have been performed by community and college theaters, congregations, children's choirs, and feminist choirs. Her third collection of poetry What I say to this house (2022) is a book-length poem and part of a collaborative art book with German visual artist, Astrid Kaemmerling. In 2013, she edited the national anthology A Ritual to Read Together to mark the centennial of poet and conscientious objector, William Stafford. Her work’s been recognized by the Ohio Arts Council and Pushcart and can be found in places like Rattle, Connotation Press, Sweet: Lit, Consequence Magazine, the Voices Together hymnal, and Image. She lives in Athens, Ohio and is a member of Columbus Mennonite Church. www.becca-jr-lachman.com