by Kathleen Hellen
The letter screams, “Attention!” K-Mart shoppers.
October’s slaves like leaves, their factories abandoned,
compete for your inspection with the pumpkins on the steps
carved to represent our ghoulish human faces. Fake
tombstones. The animated howl of a skeleton, its eyes glowing red.
Who could know? Inside the packaged set the S.O.S from Unit 8,
Department 2, inside the creepy silhouette, “Mr. Zhang” in fractured
English and Chinese, the paper ripped from the pages of a hard
indoctrination, writing with the refill of a pen, kindly asking: “Sir…
If you occasionally (sic) buy this product …,” asking you to send
this message from the dead, masked as decoration: “Thousands people here….”
How could you know the labors, back breaking? Assaults, beatings.
Manufacture’s sleep deprivation. How could you guess what went wrong
with blue light specials—kidneys, livers, lungs sold in code as UPCs?
Quotes from CNN’s Steven Jiang’s story, “Chinese labor camp inmate tells of true horror of Halloween ‘SOS.’”
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Winner of the 2nd Place Adult Award in FoFG’s 2017 Poetry Contest
Kathleen Hellen is the author of the collection Umberto’s Night, winner of the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Drunken Boat, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, North American Review, Poetry Daily, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Witness, and elsewhere. Recipient of the Thomas Merton poetry prize, the H.O.W. Journal poetry prize, the Washington Square Review Poetry Prize, and twice nominated for the Pushcart, she teaches in Baltimore.