Stephen Kampa

Thirteen Nearly Identical Dr. Seuss T-Shirts

Somewhere in the distant, indifferent future,
once we have rectified probabilistic
and deterministic models through the use
of some presently unimaginable
equation – a dazzling combination
of biochemical micro-modeling
coupled with advanced neuroplasticity-
media interaction studies,
an ounce-
for-instance
balance
of how many sour-cream-
and-onion Pringles against how many hours
of Criminal Minds – someone will be able

to explain why I can’t see a microvan,
regular van, sports van, box van, minibus,
or even brand-new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
shined to a high polish, the windows tintless,
without a brain-marquee displaying MOBILE
KILL STATION. Oldsmobile Silhouette, stoplight,
left turn lane: mobile kill station. Ford Windstar,
lit Walmart parking lot: mobile kill
station.
Chevy van,
HEAVEN
AND EARTH PLUMBERS stenciled
on both sides, clear view of all tools and total
lack of victims within: mobile kill station.

It’s as though all the middle-class psychopaths
across America are traipsing around
with chainsaws and tarps and box cutters and dead
bodies and I’m the only one seeing them,
the only sucker savvy enough to know
every van is another van the world needs
to stay away from. When a ponytailed mom
comes rattling back to the Walmart
Windstar,
one caster
on her
cart making the steering
jittery, it means nothing. Last week news broke
of the couple that held their thirteen children

captive for years, sometimes chaining them to beds
where they had to shift and turn and finally
give up on growing comfy in their own shit,
and now the Internet buzzes with pictures:
the hunched children, their faces protectively
blurred; the flabby, maggot-faced father, his lame
hippie haircut like a Lego clamp-on wig;
the straight-from-your-nightmares, sunken-eyed
mother,
her gray hair
and glare
witchy as you could want.
In one picture, she looks like nothing so much
as a greater death’s-head hawkmoth with its wings

closed as she peers out of the helmet her head
has become; in another picture, famous
now, she’s smiling. In court. How many warnings
do we give children? Don’t talk, don’t get too close,
don’t take the Starburst, never get in the van.
The greater death’s-head hawkmoth is also called
the bee robber: it loves honey, it “mimic[s]
the scent of honeybees” and thereby
can have
whatever
the hive
might offer of sweetness –
access breeds success – and still I’m thinking less
of the rare breaking-and-entering species

of kidnapper who zip-ties a father’s wrists
together, inhabiting his new stolen
home for weeks while having his way with the whole
family before taking them, one by one,
out back to his mobile kill station, and more
of this woman who dressed all thirteen children
in red Dr. Seuss t-shirts, let them shower
once a year, and starved them until her
oldest
(who’d have guessed?)
“weighed just
eighty-two pounds.” She was
twenty-nine. Their gag tees labeled them Thing 1
to Thing 13. I like to daydream those beasts

let them watch at least enough television
to know their handcuffed home life wasn’t normalβ€”
enough to learn, rerun by saccharine crime
drama rerun, the ropes: deactivated
cell, 911, cops. I like to think their case
one of few, but their Wikipedia page
includes a link (“List of child abuse cases
featuring long-term detention”) that
would take
but one quick
mouse click
to open, and the page
that pops up would have links to, what, twenty more
pages, and I think: it doesn’t have to be

mobile. Don’t even need to kill them. Sometimes
it’s enough just to keep things the way we do.
Officially, it’s called Acherontia
lachesis: the Greater Death’s Head Hawkmoth is
named for the Greek fate that measures out your life.
It smells, to honeybees, like honey, like home.
And that couple? They’re everywhere still: Reddit,
Facebook, Twitter, subject to hundreds
of views
the late news
might use –
shock-schlock we’ll only see
if we sneak a nap in. What choice do we have?
Watch it, we tell children, who watch it happen.

Author Reading

About the Author

Stephen Kampa is the author of three collections of poetry: Cracks in the Invisible (2011), Bachelor Pad (2014), and Articulate as Rain (2018). His work has appeared in the Yale Review, Cincinnati Review, Southwest Review, Hopkins Review, Poetry Northwest, Subtropics, and Smartish Pace. He was also included in Best American Poetry (2018) and Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic (2020). During the spring of 2021, he was the writer in residence at the Amy Clampitt House. He teaches at Flagler College.