Courtney Kampa

Inventory of Half-Burnt Offerings

Listen to Courtney Kampa read her piece:

We’re late because according to Virginia State law
the intersection of West Ox
& Bennett Road is only two deaths away
from the installation of a traffic light—great news
but no one’s volunteering: the stop sign line
stretching cautious for a mile, a single car gingering
forward at a time. My foot on the brake,
we practiced saying eight different options
for hello. Where the inflections go. To pronounce
her name with eye contact. With her shoulders
straight back, like Pocahontas—her favorite
Disney princess. To send her arm out like a paper boat
in the other direction. That Yes, I promised, they will
offer their hands too. It’s easy to say true things
without feeling any truth in them. Her kid-size
equestrian boots dirtying the dashboard, both hands
upwards on her lap as if a catalogue
of gestures for the frequently speechless, and by now
we’re so late the horses at her therapeutic riding class
were led already from the stable—Lucinda, Tess,
and Spirit fronting the pack. The noise of nails
in their feet. The puckered 6-inch scars
guttering their flanks, gashes that look worse
in person than they did in the daily paper. I read
they caught the boy who knifed them—who crept
into the barn that night, all of us left wondering
what pain is for. Not the dramatic part, the sound
of horse-skin breaking, reddening
the hay. I mean its aftermath: my sister’s face
as she’s legged-up to the saddle. Her woundedness
imagining theirs. Seconds before, she walked up
to the teacher in her sweet, robotic way. Gave her hand
like we’d rehearsed it, then joined the others
in the class. If grace could be
defined it’d be a very quiet phrase. All that braided
hair. The burdens on their backs. Each body
half on fire, the other half in flame.

Courtney Kampa's work is forthcoming in Boston Review, Colorado Review, TriQuarterly, The National Poetry Review, New England Review, and elsewhere, and has received awards from The Atlantic, Poets & Writers Magazine, and North American Review. She holds an MFA from Columbia and works at a publishing house in New York.