Susana H. Case
These three poems are part of a book-length narrative, The Damage Done, in a series of parts, about a character, an activist model named Janey, and the covert and illegal projects of the FBI that, under the name COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), surveilled, infiltrated, attempted to destroy the reputations of, and otherwise disrupted various American political organizations, including the Black Panther Party, anti-Vietnam War activists, civil rights activists, feminist groups, and many other groups, beginning with J. Edgar Hoover in 1956, and continuing unofficially, it is generally believed, to the present.
Flashback: Origin Story
She rang up toilet paper and six-packs
at the supermarket, knew
if she didn't get out soon,
she might as well plan on being
at the checkout forever. Her gang
of girls borrowed an old Kodak,
dressed her up—mini skirt, with fishnet,
waistcoat and tie. They lined her
eyes dark and thick, made her
believe she could be in magazines.
The Janey who left for New York City
at sixteen, cobbled together bus fare
with money she'd saved from her
minimum wage, dribbles
from these high school friends
and an aunt who was drinking
the middle of her life away
in a log cabin up in the West Virginia
hills, a cabin made of trees felled,
stripped, and pegged by hand. The aunt
lit her kitchen up in flames one night
and Janey didn't want to die in a house fire
before she got old enough to lose
her teeth. Too big for your britches,
that aunt had laughed at her yearning
for fame, but handed her an extra twenty
crumpled dollar bills for an emergency.
Something to get you started back,
after you see it lacks what you're expecting.
She arrived in the city with a list
of modeling agencies, a stack
of fashion magazines, and the addresses
of a couple of women's residential hotels.
All the clothes and makeup she owned
was doubled-bagged, the name
of the supermarket stenciled on the front.
Hunched up against backyard dampness,
smoking, you watch the sky, think about
the tomatoes that haven't been planted for years,
old canning jars bunched on a basement
shelf next to a table saw, now gathering dust, think
about having to cover up something to let it grow.
Only the brightest stars are visible, too much
light from neighbors' houses and streetlamps.
You scan for something familiar, the Big Dipper,
but everything is a random jumble. Tomatoes,
maybe time to plant zucchini too. About zucchini,
there's always too much of it. Your son
runs out in his pajamas to shriek,
"Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine" just won
a Grammy for Record of the Year
(as if you might care) before rushing back in.
And you remain standing, a lone sentinel,
your neck starting to hurt, as lights
in the houses close by begin to dim and you
realize the deadline's passed to escape.
Janey wakes up shaking in the night,
her moans like small animal sounds,
and what can the husband do but
hold her until the shaking stops.
He, too, is not getting enough sleep.
She doesn't know how she feels.
She's scared she doesn't feel
what she's supposed to feel.
Night monsters, she tries to explain.
The day before, she passed out
on the floor. The flu. A headache.
This week she eats, just barely: apple,
carrot, candy bar (no chocolate).
Just those three. Fat free.
And eaten in a fixed sequence.
It takes her two hours to cut everything
up, a precise number of bites,
a cigarette break every twenty minutes.
Surely the new fake doorman
is a spy for the FBI. He takes a small
notebook out, and he writes in it
when he thinks she's not looking,
but she's too clever to be fooled.
Never mind that he's a published poet.
Surely that's part of his cover.
Susana H. Case is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Dead Shark on the N Train, from Broadstone Books, 2020, which won a Pinnacle Book Award for Best Poetry Book, was a NYC Big Book Award Distinguished Favorite, and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. She is also the author of five chapbooks. Her first collection, The Scottish Café, fromSlapering Hol Press, was re-released in a dual-language English-Polish version, KawiarniaSzkocka by Opole University Press. The Damage Done is forthcoming in 2022 from Broadstone Books. She has co-edited, with Margo Taft Stever, the anthology I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe, forthcoming in 2022 from Milk and Cake Press.