Books » Chapter and Verse

Helmet Head

A poem by Sheila Carter-Jones

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In the driveway a grasshopper hops the hood
clings as an ornament while I ride the passenger seat
shotgun, wild woman throwing peyote dust,
turning my car into a cluster of white palomino
clomping to pow-wow in the high desert.

My father on the day of his funeral
changed into a white bird. A seagull.
He had never been to the edge, never too 
far past sulfur brown in the creek, but I had 
once seen what could have been a gull gliding
above the Allegheny River, out of place
in the gray over Pittsburgh.

It is the same coughed up sky I saw
when my father’s red-brown skin stretched death-ash
after living in coal mines, shaping dirtscapes
for rich people; boulders, manure, bulbs’ stinking
possibilities buried in hardened feces like cape castle
walls made of human excrement. Millions
of embedded hearts still pulse there 

like mine does now as I lean — my body
half out the window, screaming a fist at the grasshopper.
It hugs the hood with all six feet, madman with helmet head
bent to the wind. Wings press against abdomen, 

protect the singing heart inside segmented armor-shell.
No need to flick it for choice of song, force of wind
will knock the helmet off as we gain speed;
it will tumble backward, splatter on the windshield,
become a dot.


— Sheila Carter-Jones


Sheila Carter-Jones lives on Observatory Hill. Her most recent chapbook is Blackberry Cobbler Song. Her new book, Three Birds Deep, was selected by Elizabeth Alexander as the 2011 winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Book Award for African American writers, forthcoming in 2012 from Lotus Press, Inc. Many writers featured in Chapter & Verse are guests of Prosody, produced by Jan Beatty and Ellen Wadey. Prosody airs every Saturday morning on 90.5 FM. 


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