Boogeyman Dawn

Wolf Rock School, October 2006


Between crop fields that rise golden and whisper

when dry and a husk is all that remains,

a white clapboard school sits with a few desks

and chairs for the local boys and girls.

They come most mornings by horse-drawn buggy

or on foot, the boys in dark, homespun britches

and straw hats, the girls in their white caps and frocks.

They clatter together, over wooden planks

with heavy heeled shoes, until the day’s lesson

begins.  This is Paradise for any child,

when the class is small and the schoolhouse as serene

as the immense landscape that rises and falls

in green grass and autumn leaves

in their colorful, falling dance.  The milk man

rides down the road once a week to collect

the milk from their parents, which is the only contact

most have, at this age, with the outside world

and its machines.  Paradise in chalk,

Paradise in blackboard, Paradise in nature.

What a place to grow.



Shoot me first, said Marian to save the other girls.

He did. 

Shoot me second, said her sister,

but she survived her courage.  Thank God.



A wolf howls from a lone rock that levitates

up into the clouds, a woeful sound that circles

around the shoulders of weeping mothers

like a thin shawl.  Five little girls executed

in Paradise.  The plank boards of the school

redden with blood and so, too, the earth below. 

The milkman came to catch the bounty

of the Amish, again, this time in their children.

He must have confused the white-capped girls

with the rocking peaks of milk.   He thought

to dip his finger in here and taste.  He’d pounded

ten eyebolts into a wall spaced ten inches apart

to truss up the girls he kept when he sent

the rest away so that he could touch them in a line.

How efficient.  A siren wail thwarted his saliva-drip

desire, so he shot the girls and himself, most execution style,

so their blood mixed with his amid crayons and lesson books.    



With the other women, she dresses the girls in white,

this children she turned with her own midwife fingers

and shepherded into the world.



A nearby meeting house stretches its doors

for the mourning and the candles they bring. 

Night lingers on, longer than usual, and the Amish

bow their heads, their whole bodies, into prayer.

Sam Stolzfus, a grandfather of one of the girls, speaks

to the boys who survive:  Do not think this man evil. 

Their hearts they must resign to God,

keep them smooth and untwisted by hate. 

And to those around him, who listen to his husky,

woodcutter voice:  A funeral to us is a much more

important thing than the day of birth

because we believe in the hereafter.  The children

are better off than their survivors

The congregation says Amen and moans in agreement.

This meeting place, too, is holy.  Mothers look

to their sons, and fathers look to their daughters,

those who were not there or escaped, and hold

them dearer, wonder how this will change the future,

while they plan the funerals of Naomi Rose,

Anna Mae, Marian, Mary Liz  and Lena,

determine which horses and which buggies

will bear them up to heaven.  



Simple pine boxes with no metal

pins in graves dug by hand. 

All things return to dust. 

On Boogeyman Dawn, 2013, Salmon Poetry

In Boogeyman Dawn, Raina León explores the space between some of our worst nightmares and the awakening of hope. León does not look away from even the rawest of wounds in the psyche, the flesh, and the social body, but it is through carefully wrought images and patiently distilled language-lines that are anything but raw – that she entices us to follow her gaze and trust that dawn will come. One source of encouragement is her rich and multifaceted cultural heritage – Puerto Rican, black, American – evident not only in the subjects she treats, but also in the way lines of Spanish and English sometimes dance together. Be aware: the ‘boogeyman’ in these poems is no mere myth, but a symbol of problems all too real. Still, as León guides us through her shifting landscape, though she confesses to moments of despair, she always gives witness to the re-emergence of hope: “This morning I found my wrists again, / But you held my hands.”                               

— Evie Shockley, author of The Gorgon Goddess and The New Black


“[H]ow do you save yourself when silent / mouth clamped shut” asks one speaker. “[H]e needs me to explore the words / with my tongue, repeat them with the muscles / of my face” feels like a reply – one of many.  There doesn’t seem to be a device or register that León will not explore in this fearless poemario whose ethos, on the hand, is giving witness: the abused child at school; the prisoner pursuing a GED; the massacre of six Amish children. But also giving surprising voice to, literally, the voiceless: “I just wanted to be held” (‘The pistol’s confession’); “They forget the days when they floated / makeshift prayer boats along my face” (‘Monologue of a shallow river’), all the while deploying “the guts of growl and play” – her plural flexing of language.       

— Francisco Aragón, Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame, author of Glow of Our Sweat


Raina León has crafted an elegant, brooding, and playful peek-around-the-corner view of this often difficult existence through the eyes and thoughts of children, and those whose lives are affected by them--which is all of us. From the haunting dark of premature death to the transformative, ambivalent force of testosterone, León hears the proud, colloquial, melanin-informed line that distinguishes familiar and familial, that border that suggests we are all connected, and we are not. A narrative woven in the intimacy of despair as well as the proximity of hope, this is a stunning, imaginative collection.                  

— Quraysh Ali Lansana, author of Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community



© Raina J. León 2017