Janet Aalfs: “Facing the Wall”


Janet Aalfs is a former Poet Laureate of Northampton and the director of Valley Women’s Martial Arts. Her poetry collection Reach was published by Perugia Press in 1999. The poem below is reprinted with permission from her chapbook Full Open (Orogeny Press, 1996).

Facing the Wall

1. Someone found a heart

on market street not human
there’s really no cause
for alarm though a naked heart
warm on the sidewalk on halloween
is upsetting but not as bad as if
it were the organ of a valuable life
we don’t mean
one of the seventeen women found
strewn along desert highways
you can’t question whores their stories
aren’t reliable their lives aren’t stable
the reason we haven’t found a suspect
yet is that we can’t
get a straight answer out of anyone
and no one really knows
a slut she’ll go with whatever man
will take her you can’t trust women
like that to die when they’re supposed to
with their clothes on at a legal address
we think we’ve discovered the eighteenth

2. I want to know why

the fbi is so good at tracking down
bank robbers twenty years later charging them
with attempt to overthrow the government and
if the killer were out to slaughter corporation
presidents they’d nab him before he stepped
into the first lobby but they can’t find
a guy who hits on women one after the next
leaves them stripped to the bone
returns to his car job tv neighbors
like whoever left the heart on market street
now floating pickled in a hospital jar
silent as the eighteenth woman tagged
in a numbered refrigerator drawer no name address
important as she ever was
I want to know how that heart
arrived at market street who cut it out
of what body I want the names of every
thrown-away life engraved on a shiny
black wall then no one will be able to stand
anywhere in the world and not face it

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