Turning Point




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Sample Poems by Kirsten  Hampton

What Holds Us Together

They  took the old drawbridge,
plunged it into the bay,
relic into reef, stress  cracks

transformed to a sea zoo, sunken girder and truss.
That bridge was strung over the  river for a century,
over mid stream bass,

bottom white perch, the Potomac  River
fissure between north and south.
The drawbridge melding Maryland to  Virginia,

country to commerce,
and like the stray bull shark
that swims up to round  snout

safe nursery shallows,
it fords one history to the next.
My grandfather was a  traveler

like those who crossed that bridge.
He came over from a farther place,
from  Holland, teenaged and pocketless

but he could do figures in his head
faster than fish can  hide.
His English was punctuated with Dutch guttural,

the way water grinds rock, mixes  cement
that upholds the American dream,
Detroit automobile factories that he  designed.

He once slept under a new building
to prove his math,
roofline rafter long  like the gray river whale.


My husband's grandfather
was a different kind of  laboring man.
Dark as slave history, he was strong

like an alloy of carbon and iron,
big  man with a chest as wide as the hood of a car.
He worked in the steel mills of  Birmingham

where after the Civil War cash from moneymen
flowed like smelting  ore,
ore that moved like oil, or red lava,

the kind that creates a new land
from the  ocean floor.
From black-red blooms,

those steelmen
turned out the unyielding-I, wide  flanges
and giant joists.

And in that old bridge's last sinuous reflection
I am  realizing
it is possible

that the I-beam my northern immigrant grandfather
slept  under
was made by my husband's grandfather,

in an Alabama house of  heat.
Once I thought that in marrying, in melding,

welding our families together that I  would become
like that drawbridge, or repurposed in an ocean.
But now I know I am  more

the slipstream bull gray that has always ventured up river,
nosing for water-weeded  eddies
as if to protect our young.

Woman In Jail With A  Week To Think

Day 1
Mildred Loving, Old Pauly Jail
Caroline  County, Virginia, 1958

From the native oyster
she knew how to prepare.
The way the  bivalve,
inside its shell,
carries a safe of saltwater
to survive
long periods out of the  sea.

How Things Are (Not What They  Seem)

Alexandria, Virginia, 2003

Even in the way the flat cuttlefish,  which is colorblind,
ripples along the English Channel,
its wake like the hem of the  petticoat
that Pocahontas wore

or the scalloped riffled
edge of parchment  bills,
racial integrity laws
passed on the legislative floor.

So the cuttlefish and its  system of cells
can match any background when cued,
blending with algae or sand
under  cover of chromatophore.

In a similar way
my children,
when tracked or  tallied,
are turned from white to brown
to black or more.

Curious that while  staying the same
something can be completely changed,
as with cuttlefish.
When correctly  classified as mollusk,
not fish at all, but metaphor.