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Thursday, June 21, 2018


by Mary K O'Melveny

José, 5, carries with him a drawing of his father, whom he has not seen since they were separated upon arriving in the United States from Honduras. —“The Daily,” The New York Times, June 20, 2018. "And the president’s order does nothing to address the plight of the more than 2,300 children who have already been separated from their parents under the president’s 'zero tolerance' policy. Federal officials said those children will not be immediately reunited with their families while the adults remain in federal custody during their immigration proceedings. "—The New York Times, June 20, 2018

Some of us are always trying to be kind.
Even in smallest ways.  Even as the known
world self-destructs around us, shards of
optimism falling from the sky before we even
have a chance to look up to see what has
shifted us off our comfortable axis.

I’ve got a chipmunk problem in my yard.
The tiny furred creatures have popped up
everywhere, sending showers of dirt
into the air like it was Yellowstone.
I cannot kill them even though I want to.
They will not leave even though I have raged

at them, insulted them and their ancestors.
My neighbor brings a have a heart trap
so I can remove them kindly.  He baits it with
peanut butter.  Soon the trap has a frightened
occupant.  I cannot bear to look out for fear
of crying.  The prisoner is soon relocated.

The trap is replaced.  A new chipmunk takes
the bait.  He too is repatriated to a new territory.
Capture and repeat.   The metal trap looms larger
each day as an unending array of innocents are
tempted by creamy nut paste.  Soon enough,
I begin to worry about babes left behind in tunnels,

about mothers and fathers  grieving for lost children.
One day a chipmunk plants itself on my deck
and looks in through the window.  My kind self
huddles behind the blind.  I will not make eye contact.
This is the humane way, I say to myself, even as I begin
to imagine each trapped rodent wearing an orange

jumpsuit as interrogators gather nearby with pen
and paper waiting for the inevitable confessions.
One night, the trap is sprung, its detainee freed from
house arrest.  I am thrilled.  Then I learn that a bear
has likely done it.  Probably thanked me for the easy meal.
Now I am lost in my worst fears.  There is no kindness in my yard.

How could I have thought otherwise?  This is how
it always begins.  Good intentions vanishing
like some dying star,  rationalizations
reverberating across celestial centuries.
Turns out it is our unwavering belief
in our self-righteousness that is the trap.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals.  Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age will be published by Finishing Line Press in September, 2018.