I said to the girl
who was wailing
oh my god should we
break the windows
in the same high
register as the
sirened trucks
that had not yet
arrived, her hand
on the red handle
that would puncture
the glass so she
could jump from
the second story,
I said in a calm
tone, like speaking
to a child
hiding from thunder
under a table, no,
we have
enough time
shouldering my
backpack, my
purse, gray smoke
and burning rubber,
we have
enough time
to get off the bus
we’re going to be
all right
and we walked
down the steep
and narrow
steps, away
from the fire that
was sustaining
as fires do.


Breaking the Wheel

As a child, I lived
          on St. Catherine Street,
                    patron saint of unmarried girls

and knife sharpeners,
          spinsters and spinners.
                    Strapped to a spiked wheel for torture

when she wouldn’t
          consort with the emperor,
                    she shattered it with her touch.

Impatient, the executioner
          took her head instead.
                    At one end, St. Catherine Street

becomes Greengrass. In the middle,
          we sledded down the front-yard hill,
                    whooping with joy or terror.

The street dead-ends
          near Coldwater Creek
                    with its concrete banks and nuclear secrets:

runoff from radioactive waste
          leeched into its water
                    decades ago. The kids who played

on its banks (my mother
          never let me) have
                    salivary gland growths, thyroid tumors.

In one treatment, neutron therapy,
          the radiation takes away
                     from what it gave.

In the room, a “vault,”
          photons bounce off a bit
                    of beryllium, and the tumor’s DNA

dances in the ray,
          cannot cope. The cell
                    breaks, defeated wheel.

For years, the official word
          was: no link between
                    their illness and the creek.

Now the state sifts the soil.
          Thorium lurks a few feet down.
                     Don’t breathe it in,

the researchers warn;
          no landscaping or tilling here.
                    Use caution. We can clean this up.

Caravaggio’s Catherine holds a sword,
          her dress sleeves white
                     against the dark shadows of her skirts.

The wheel is broken behind her,
          two spokes with empty couplings.
                     An unbroken halo curves

around her head, barely there,
           gold that might
                      float away on the lightest exhalation.


LISA AMPLEMAN is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State UP, 2012). Her poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Image, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. She lives in Cincinnati, where she is the managing editor of The Cincinnati Review.