from In America (2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize Selection)
for Paula Schonauer
I’ll never forget the smell of mouthwash
on the breath of two old Choctaw women
who got picked up by a cop and taken to detox.
The cop was my friend, a six-foot-five
woman who joined the Oklahoma City
Police Department as a man
and transitioned on the job. Nobody
on the force would be Paula’s partner,
so she patrolled alone, occasionally
inviting guests to spend a day
on her beat in the Capital District,
south of the river, a tough area,
almost as tough as Paula, who stuck
her big smiling head in every dollar store,
liquor mart, nail salon—“Everything
okay here?”—steadfastly, day after day,
until she was liked, or appreciated,
or accepted enough to be ignored.
Every now and then she’d get
a dispatch call to another part of the city
to handle some public rowdiness.
Her superiors hated her, but they knew
no one she arrested ever resisted,
and occasionally, as if under a spell, perps
confessed to her, saving the cost of a trial.
We found the women in the dirt,
reclining against a Walgreens.
Have you ever smelled someone
drunk on Listerine? Picture rotting feet
in formaldehyde. They were all
hiccups and smiles as they tumbled
into the back seat. “Watch your head
sweetheart,” said Paula. “Oh thank you
sir,” they replied. She didn’t correct them,
just delivered them. Serving With Pride—
the words on every squad car in that city.