Five Poems

by Jeannine Hall Gailey



For the Love of Ivy

(Poison Ivy Leaves a Note for Batman in the Wake of Another Apocalypse Attempt)

You can see, can’t you, the appeal of such a world – lush with growth,

an earth empty of men’s trampling? In college, sitting through botanical medicine


classes, ecotoxicology, experiments in plant poisons – it became clear

that this was my verité – an orchid dressed to seduce wasps, a blooming


parasite wrapped around the trunk of a tree. You might take me home,

beg me for a kiss, but don’t you see the xylem and phloem in my veins


can’t pulse for you? My only offense not-death, regenerating from venom

fed me by my own professor? Feculent, fecund and feral, my power


you couldn’t understand, being born of cave-dwellers, bats and humans,

and your peculiar love of stray cats. My very existence, perhaps, my only crime


against nature. You can’t stem the murmur of voices under soil,

buried against their will – radioactive trees, GMO fruit. Just consider me


another mutant gone wrong, my betrayals in the distant backstory, my tears

now flow a green ooze as I try to heal the land, cesium in the sunflowers,


goat genes welded into innocent corn. Despite drought and denial,

I will continue to grow unharmed, my defense all delicate leaf and toxic petal.



The Black Widow’s Bite 

is full of tired venom, a ballerina lost in flames.

The years spent conforming to black bodysuits

and government cabals. Can’t whitewash her childhood

away, can’t forget years spent whispering secrets

into untrustworthy ears. How many hawks and highwaymen

on the side of the road, how many daredevil escapes?

Fighting for one country or cause after another,

it’s not exactly patriotism or passion that mobilizes her

but where else, exactly, does she fit? Educated in warfare

and mind games and little else, her 73rd birthday

behind her and barely a wrinkle, what can she turn to now

but the bottle of fine vodka, Mussorgsky (another team player

betrayed) and dreams of fallen empires? Peel back the layers

of her identity – who was Natalia before the orphanage fire,

a little girl playing at being the last Romanov?



Why I Love The Supervillain 

Because I, too, was raised by wolves in a town seeped through with secrets and radioactive spiders.

Because I am tired of the shiny and strong.

Because once I believed that everything could be fixed, and now I am tempted to believe

the bald man with the laptop and Persian cat, the wheelchair-riding scientist in dark glasses and German accent, the brittle-boned over the muscle-bound. And all those tights.

Because my father was a mad scientist, and my mother a tragic figure I could not save. Because my twin brother is alive on another planet in a parallel universe.

Because I, too, long for a laser ray to wipe the slate clean, to write my name in the blank smug face of the moon.



The Scientist Solves a Puzzle 

Like the boy in the Snow Queen story,

playing with ice and fire, trying to spell “love”

or “salvation,” ending up with only broken shards.

I don’t remember what I wanted to accomplish.

When did I find myself so far away, so bruised with frost,

so unseeing? There are crystals in my heart, fragments

of mirror in my eye. I stack one atom next to another,

then force them apart, race them against the clock.

I’m only guessing. Endothermic, exothermic.

Is that what brought on this nuclear winter? I forget.

I remember a long time ago I thought it would always be exciting,

that logic would save the day, man’s triumph over matter.

White lab coats, secret caves for experiments.

Atomic man. Radioactive boy. Tick tick tick. 



Introduction to Girl Detectives 

It’s important to start with a powder blue car and a locked diary.

The mystery is the disappearance of the mother. No role models.


The girl detective catches the film noir festival downtown, the theatre

with patchy velvet curtains and fading murals. The images light her up.


Silk blouses, nefarious hot-rollered hair. Pools of blood, dim corridors. She thinks:

contemporary versions of my character might sport tattoos, nose rings, contempt for law.


She has a lot of male friends, but no permanent love interest. Sometimes

she thinks it is because she is too good at solving mysteries.


She indulges in shinrin-yoku, to soothe her nerves, control her impulse to clean

her purse again. She meditates, tries hot yoga. Still the tick of that clock in her head.


The girl detective says, if you’d been working since 1930,

you’d be worn out too. The girl detective’s sleeves are getting frayed.


One more puzzle to solve: the clock tower whispering too latetoo late,

the shadowed hallway leading once more to a tower of books, to solitude,


to a storyline where she might once again be the heroine, thumping along

solid as the engine of her vintage Mustang convertible.