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Richard Newman

Double Helix

Ode to the Brown-Banded Cockroach

Double Helix

His dad had kicked him down the hallway.
His tailbone won’t let him forget,
at 50, his twisted DNA.

In tumbling cowboy boot ballet,
smoke curling from a cigarette,
his dad had kicked him down the hallway.

He’d flown, light as papier-mâché,
too slow to dodge the booted threat
and later the twisted DNA,

wishing the mirror on the wall
opened to different wings, would let
him hide down alternate new hallways.

He feared the recoiling spring’s delay
and vowed that he would never set
hand, foot, or twisted DNA

against his own.  He’d rather crawl
to his grave alone than ever beget.
His dad had kicked him down the hallway
and helped twist off their DNA.

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Ode to the Brown-Banded Cockroach

Every mother cockroach thinks her baby is beautiful.

—Italian saying

You scuttle on translucent legs at night.
By day you hide behind our picture frames,
in ceiling fans—wait motionless for hours.
You know the art of waiting since you evolved
300 million years before we did.
Of course you eat each others’ shit—you need
the microbes to digest our history books.

O crazy bug, whose fine-tuned zig meets zag,
your one long brain shoots from your bullet head
to rear-end motion detector, reaching down
to gauge your whisker-triggered knees, three each
on all six legs, that warn of boot and broom.
You taste outside your body to avoid
our poisons.  You live and live.  You find in flames
the safe spot of the microwave and live.

Mama Cockroach, you mate but once in life
then spawn 600 children in a year,
tote perfect Tic Tac capsules full of eggs
before you seal them to our kitchen cabinets,
a molting nest of legs, spent shells, and spit.

Once friends invited us to their apartment
to help make cookies for the holidays.
With oven warming, merrily we rolled
and cut our favorite shapes and decorated
in the living room where there was space to work.
We stepped into the kitchen.  Hordes of you
had spread from the heat like shrapnel from a bomb
across the ceiling, floor, and walls, thousands
of patient minds suspended above the tile. 
“We hadn’t used the oven yet,” they said.
I saw this constellation in negative,
our future when we exterminate ourselves.
O little beans of typhoid, dysentery,
your blood runs clear and irrepressible.
You wait in our shadow with unblinking eyes,
antennae trembling on the infinite.

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Richard Newman has served as River Styx editor for 18 years.  He is the author of two full-length poetry collections: Domestic Fugues (Steel Toe Books, 2009) and Borrowed Towns (Word Press, 2005).  He is also the author of several poetry chapbooks, including 24 Tall Boys: Dark Verse for Light Times (Firecracker Press/Snark Publishing, 2007) and Monster Gallery: 19 Terrifying and Amazing Monster Sonnets! (Snark Publishing, 2005).  His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Boulevard, Crab Orchard Review, Measure, New Letters, Poetry Daily, Poetry East, Unsplendid, Verse Daily, and many other periodicals and anthologies.  He teaches at Washington University and co-directs the River Styx at Duff's reading series.  

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