On The Page, Poet Mourns Daughter's Murder

Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno i i

hide captionPoet Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno's new collection of poems details the aftermath of her daughter's murder.

Mat Krzesiczan/Alice James Books
Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Poet Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno's new collection of poems details the aftermath of her daughter's murder.

Mat Krzesiczan/Alice James Books

Poet Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno's new collection of poems, Slamming Open the Door, documents the aftermath of the murder of her daughter Leidy Bonanno.

Leidy was found dead in her apartment in 2003, strangled with a telephone cord by an ex-boyfriend. She had recently graduated from nursing school.

Two of the book's poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and poet Sharon Olds calls the work "a gift of power, truth, rage, and beauty."

The New York Times writes of the unflinching collection: "Readers will have to step outside of a familiar, comforting tradition of poetic grief while reading this book. Here are not the solemn measures of Shelley and Tennyson."

Bonanno is a contributing editor of The American Poetry Review. She teaches English and creative writing in Pennsylvania.

Excerpt: 'Slamming Open The Door'

Cover: 'Slamming Open The Door'
Courtesy of Alice James Books
Slamming Open The Door
By Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno
Paperback, 80 pages
Alice James Books
List Price: $15.95

Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat,
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck:
From now on,
you write about me.

What People Give You

Long-faced irises. Mums.
Pink roses and white roses
and giant sunflowers,
and hundreds of daisies.

Fruit baskets with muscular pears,
and water crackers and tiny jams
and the steady march of casseroles.
And money,
people give money these days.

Cards, of course:
the Madonna, wise
and sad just for you,
Chinese cherry blossoms,
sunsets and moonscapes,
and dragonflies for transcendence.

People stand by your sink
and offer up their pain:
Did you know I lost a baby once,
or My eldest son was killed,
or My mother died two months ago.

People are good.
They file into your cartoon house
until it bows at the seams;
they give you every
blessed
thing,
everything,
except your daughter back.


Confessions

Don't pity me:
I was too lazy to walk
up the stairs
to tuck her in at night.

When I brushed her hair
I pulled hard
on purpose.

And always
the sharp,
plaintive edge
on the rim
of the spoon
of my giving.


Ant

An ant rears its front legs,
its rosary-bead parts
startling and black,
but I do not see it.

You name it.
I cannot see
what she can
not see.


The Unitarian Society of Germantown

The church is a big wooden boat,
Dave and I in a corner,
as the rain drops patter
then slash
through the dark outside.

Hold on tight,
says the kindly moon face
of the minister.

But we can smell our own sweat.
We roll our eyes and moan
and grapple for position.

One by one, the others
press their bodies against us,
until finally,
we tire and lean in
to their patient animal breath,
to wait it out together.


Ladybugs

We see them everywhere now.
Last month, a tiny baby one
more orange than red,
purposeful, crawling
on the wall
above my side of the bed.

Inside a domed reception hall
at a fund-raising supper,
in the middle
of our round table
sits a perfect dead one.

We eat our soup
until one of us spots it,
our spoons slowing.

My niece wraps it in a pink tissue,
as if it were a sequin dropped
from the sleeve of God,
and takes it home.

After the trial, a blizzard
of ladybugs on the courthouse steps,
more this week
than Berks County has seen in years.
At first we crunch them underfoot
until, horrified, we look down
and know what we do.

Hundreds of them,
shining orange and black,
the dead and the living together —
the living
on the backs of the dead.

Excerpted from Slamming Open The Door by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno Copyright 2009 by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno. Excerpted by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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