Black Cat, Oyster Bar

—claw and net of blues guitar, harmonica

Past the hour when bulimic hope binges at the chicken-wing buffet, past the hour of exuberance,
you wear a wig the neon sets on fire. Skin the vices in calligraphies of lewd tattoos. You weigh
the balance, your sins against a feather, your sins against the stormy weather. You roll toward
sentience: barmaids who shortchange you, husbands who pretend that they don’t know you. You
cannot recommend yourself to yourself. Filthy with diseases.

Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Only Country was the Color of My Skin (2018), the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net, and featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have been awarded the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize, the Thomas Merton poetry prize and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. She has won grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. Hellen’s poems have appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow StreetThe Massachusetts ReviewNew Letters, North American Review, Poetry East,Prairie SchoonerSalamanderSeattle Review, the Sewanee ReviewSouthern Poetry ReviewSpoon River Poetry Review, Witness, and elsewhere.

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