“The Ax-Murderer’s Daughter” by J. Kates

The ax-murderer’s daughter
got a brand-new yellow tutu
and satin slippers
for her eighth birthday.

And today is Every-Other-Saturday:
time to visit with her mother
where he lives ever since the accident
she was too young to remember

How she hates the long drive,
the iron doors and corridors,
the dirty little room where three bored men
watch her mother talking to him,
two girls fidgeting.

What is she supposed to think
about the stranger she’s supposed to love
for her mother’s sake and Jesus’?
She will stop visiting when she goes away to college
but write faithfully every month.

He will learn about her own two children, her divorce,
her move out of state, her new home.

She will give instructions to the chief of police
(there is always talk of budget-cutting,
of letting the safe ones out)
if ever he shows up in town:
Shoot on sight.

But today she will dance for him
in the dirty metal room to canned music
borrowed from her teacher.
She will wear her yellow tutu and satin slippers,
her mother, sister watching
and three bored guards.

And he will watch her, too, saying afterwards,
my little girl.
That’s my little girl

This poem was originally published in The Briar Patch (Hobblebush 2012).

J. Kates

J. Kates

J.  Kates is a poet, literary translator and the president and co-director of Zephyr Press, a non-profit press that focuses on contemporary works in translation from Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry in 1984 and a Translation Project Fellowship in 2006, as well as an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts in 1995. He has published three chapbooks of his own poems: Mappemonde (Oyster River Press) Metes and Bounds (Accents Publishing) and The Old Testament (Cold Hub Press) and a full book, The Briar Patch. (Hobblebush Books). He is the translator of The Score of the Game  and An Offshoot of Sense by Tatiana Shcherbina; Say Thank You and Level with Us by Mikhail Aizenberg; When a Poet Sees a Chestnut Tree and Secret Wars by Jean-Pierre Rosnay; Corinthian Copper by Regina Derieva; Live by Fire by Aleksey Porvin; and Genrikh Sapgir’s Psalms. He is the translation editor of Contemporary Russian Poetry, and the editor of In the Grip of Strange Thoughts: Russian Poetry in a New Era.  A former president of the American Literary Translators Association, he is also the co-translator of four books of Latin American poetry.