In Rachel Contreni Flynn’s poems the stories exist on several levels. There is what the speaker experiences, all those complexities of mistrust, fear and tenderness, and her inner conflicts.   Then there are the larger moral issues the writer raises by telling these stories. Just by putting “America” in the title, she is asking us to examine our own view of the world. And in “When I open the door a boy stands there,” we feel again the complication, how sympathy for one boy might endanger another, and vice versa–how protecting one will in some way betray the other. Beyond that there is the suggestion that moral decisions are never clearcut and perhaps always haunt us with untaken choices. Another great gift of stories is that we get to enter them with all their tensions and possibilities, so the poems aren’t about an experience; they are an experience.

Betsy Sholl

Rachel Contreni Flynn

America, February


The world shudders on, wintering in its enormity. A bobber’s stuck

in the brambles creek side, and I’ve mistaken so many things, but here

it is: dangling brightly, splitting in the cold. Last night I refused the help


of a man in coveralls to pull me from a ditch, refused a man I imagined.

The ditch was icy and deep, precipitous, and I was front-down in it

when he pulled up in a muscular pick-up, sturdy chains coiled in the flat bed,


but I wouldn’t take any chances and waved him past, emphatic, as if content

to dangle dialing numbers in my ass-up minivan. So it’s come to this in a world

where we’re in trouble and pain. And imagining. The man drove away,


and I stayed another hour in the ditch. A bobber, dangling. I keep tabs on it

on my morning walks. How it remains, split between the red and white,

a tiny thing faded by winter sun blasting through the blue.


First published in the Florida Review, 2016


When I open the door a boy stands there


not a large boy but larger than me and he’s destroyed face puffed red and wet he smells of
sweat and rotten shoes and faintly of pot and stale shit and he falls toward my chest and
that’s my chest holding up a stranger a boy my breasts on his face which is wet and he says
I can’t I can’t and I push up his shoulders a light shaking then soft shouting Are you hurt?
What hurts? and then Where is your mother? which seems the only thing to ask in trouble
and he pulls from his back pocket a good-


sized knife by which I mean it could cut a cantaloupe but not a watermelon that’s what I
think of the wood-handled knife shiny he produces from his floppy jeans and so I take it
from him simply as if I might turn to cube melon for snack and he stares at me considering
the knife and the boy says Mr. Flynn and I can’t figure what my husband’s father in Illinois
could do with this knife or this almost-large boy destroyed on my porch in Maine and the
boy says I came to make him pay by which he means my husband his principal and the sky
is very white it’s very blank and my shirt is creased wet just at the left breast and the boy
says But I can’t and I don’t ask again but lead him easy now


to the chair-and-a-half in the tv room that’s covered by a ragged cat blanket and the boy
breathes ragged then easy now folds his pale body into the chair covers himself with the
cat blanket he doesn’t know any better and that’s where the two state cops very large find
him asleep still smelling of shoes and shit and now cat of course I had to call because our
son very young will be home soon off the bus with a backpack full of bright folders and he
is small and I must not be destroyed now or ever I must prepare snack because I’m here
and safe and his mother

First published by Booth, 2015

Rachel Contreni Flynn has published several collections of poetry, and is co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal.  She combines a life of poetry and law, and lives with her family in Gorham, ME.