In Their Own Words
Yona Harvey on “Schottelkotte”
All our goodnights sound like matches striking.
Goodnight, grenade—little knock in the murk, little
pill in the palm. Put us to sleep
while we sleep. One B leads to another:
Boom. The footage fumes. Once
upon a time there was a suicide. Once upon a time
there was an affair & a missile, a mis-
understanding, an intervention, a B-
Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb—
Keep mouthing after the newscaster moves on.
Boom: a fourteen-year-old girl married a bomb.
From Hemming the Water (Four Way Books, 2013). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
"They used to call him 'Blood and Guts Al,'" my father says about the newscaster who haunted my Cincinnati childhood, Al Schottelkotte. We're in my parents' living room, the day after my poetry reading at the University of Cincinnati. My father tells me this bit of information, though, after my first book, Hemming the Water, has been published, after my mother asks why I wrote this poem. "Artistic" and "domestic" lives mingle. In truth, there's no separation; only one brain, one life, and that's how I've learned to write my poems.
When I was a kid, there was something equally terrifying and quotidian about Schottelkotte's newscasts. On one hand, the television was always turned on, tiny and squat on the ledge that divided the kitchen from the dining room, hardly menacing. But the words that escaped? Before age ten, I heard "bomb" and "hijack" and "Lebanon," and felt terrified for the lives of girls I imagined in far-off countries. Schottelkotte, grainy, gray-suited, and stern, seemed unaffected, delivering the ominous reports. He signed off, and his words are the words I remember before bed. And, didn't I, too, feel somehow relieved, headed toward the safety of my room?
The occasional misery of domestic routine, the news turning endlessly, feels sometimes like defeat. Maybe I didn't sleep as soundly as I'd thought back then? In this poem, I try to capture that news hour routine and re-mix it to the tune of children's tales. "Look at the crisis in Iran," the Winans gospel group used to wail through my mother's stereo speakers, "Russia's already invaded Afghanistan." Would I have believed if someone had told me the same curious names that haunted me then would burn my children's ears so many years into the future?
I hope the world isn't as numb as it sometimes seems. I tried placing a bit of disruption in the final line of "Schottelkotte;" an American woman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, hoping to cast or break a spell.