“Strawberry Basket,” mixed media, by Bernice Cross, 1943.

by Justin Hamm

On the playground I strum guitar while my daughter
dangles upside down from the bar above the tall slide,

and inside my middle-aged brain a movie
plays: the pop-art radiance of ambulance lights,

then the cold eye of a weary doctor who rubs
the bridge of his nose and glances back

at the darkly cloaked hospital chaplain
before clearing his throat to speak.

Enough of that, I say. I don’t want you
to hurt yourself. Trying to sound composed

when what I mean is I love you please
don’t die on me the way my mother did.

Something about Missouri in November,
the trees so recently vacant of leaves.

That and another bad triglyceride reading
have me on high alert,

but then, I hear we’ve all gone half-insane
with protectiveness, and I believe it,

can remember how Mom let us roam freely
the trailer park and the thick woods,

how we skipped alongside passing Amtraks,
checking in only for Kool-Aid and ham sandwiches.

God, I wish I could go back, take her by the shoulders,
look her in the eyes and say come on, just pay attention,

not at all for those sweet dangers she permitted us
but because our time was already evaporating.

omega man

Justin Hamm is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. His poetry has been awarded the Stanley Hanks Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center and has appeared in Nimrod, Sugar House Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and New Poetry from the Midwest.