Lauren Scharhag (Western Voices 2020)

Exclusive: Western Voices, 2020: Edited by Scott Thomas Outlar
Bio: Lauren Scharhag is the author of thirteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 100 literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize and two Best of the Net nominations. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit:

Ay de Mi

In the version my abuela told me,
she had taken a lover,
or maybe she was a widow,
on the prowl for a new husband.
In either case,
she had to get rid of her children
to please a man.
This we understood.
We knew about our mothers and their boyfriends.
Even the ones that become step-fathers
could never really see us as theirs.

Be good, or La Llorona will get you.

We could imagine it all so easily,
our little barrio by the river.
In every version,
there is always a body of water,
there is always a drowning.
This we understood as well.
Our grandfathers had crossed a river;
that’s why they called us wetbacks.
We understood the borders
between life and not-life,
how they must be drawn
in water and breath.

Now, her restless spirit
searches endlessly
for children, calling,

¿Dónde están mis hijos?

When modern Medeas made the news,
we knew them for what they were.
Then one night, I heard it, too,
the crying.
Terrified, I hid under the covers.
My mother told me, It’s just a story,
and the sound you heard—
it was just mourning doves.
But mourning doves don’t sing at night.

If you hear La Llorona, run the other way.

Later, I realized I must have heard
a real woman crying,
those old houses built
within arm’s length of each other,
open windows in the summer meant
we could hear everything
going on next door
and I didn’t know a single woman
on the block
that didn’t have
a reason to weep.

In some versions,
it was an act of mercy.
She’d rather see her children dead
than destitute,
bereft of love.

Now that I am a woman
who has shed her share of tears,
I understand the wandering fog,
and making choices each
more damned
than the last.


the shaman’s path
is air.
I aspire to feathers
and hollow bones,
an appetite for grubs.
Watch for my wings
at daybreak,
when I depart this earth
and sing.

The Unseeing

We see only the bills that need to be paid.
We are consumed with shopping lists and topping off fuel tanks.
At best, we shut off the lights.
At best, we turn off the tap when we brush our teeth.
We are concerned with the lakes where we summer,
with the diminishing songbirds that once
graced our backyard feeders,
with the sea turtles we saw once at an aquarium,
with the deer, suddenly homeless,
crashing through our bay windows
in a violent reversal of life,
afterbirth of blood and glass.
It’s hard to imagine the landfills that are kept
well away from our neighborhoods,
the slow boats to China laden with waste
now being marked return to sender.
Most of us have seen more ivory
in our lifetime than elephants,
so how do we conceptualize a glacier,
the groan of a cracking ice shelf?
Most of us will never stand on the thing
that could drown the world,
or even know that the pitcher has been tipped.
The frogs can’t see the slow boil or
the grasshopper summer’s end.
To everyone, their way of life is just forever.
Would we understand better if you told us
that Sunday has been cancelled,
that there will be no more Easter egg hunts?
Would we understand what it means to say
this is the death cabinet and we just keep
adding species to it? Somewhere, the last
giraffe does not know it is the last giraffe.
Somewhere, the last unseeing man will come
to his epiphany.

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