Poems: Jennifer Givhan

Illo for Jennifer Givhan's poems.


My body he burned          ironing the waxpaper
of my breasts          glue-gunning me papier-mâché

to the smell of arts & crafts in the recreation room
(every room after the recovery room)

like the cumbias of my girlhood dancefloors
flailing like Sunday Mass          Nothing tasted so good

as the mango con chile from the fruit stand
at the razor-edge of town          not even the lime-

squeezed beer          its smell of night-
oak shimmering in the yard          I’d climb

out my window & Danny with his brother’s truck
wasn’t the one I loved wasn’t the one

who squashed the June bugs spiraling
from my navel          my collarbones          the peach-

fuzzed skin of my newly-shaped breasts
(girls in alleyways          if you survived dumpster-

diving          you survived anything)
                                A mother lost her children
to her ex-husband          her children with bruises

on their thighs          in the apricot-soft
within their elbows          photographs the judge ruled

circumstantial or unprovable          the wife could not prove
I’m tired of women failing to protect what we love

         When I say tired I mean the razorblade
I stole when I was fifteen from the hardware store

pressed to my wrists like cat claws
I told my mom were the neighbor’s cat

Mom          she’s wild          she’s untamable          that fat tabby
(I don’t mean angry at the women but

unmothered things)
                                My ex’s nana had a stroke
& my ex-nuera Sally told me she asks for me time to time

my ex-railyard familia          barbacoa & soaking beans
like I’m never drunk in the grass anymore          wailing

like that alley tabby I’ve never stopped
needing—she lies in the bed

between my husband & me          stomach pressed
to sheets & waiting          hollowed calavera

en día de los muertos          marigolds
laid on the altar of her belly button

though now she could be my ex’s daughter
at her Quinceañera in white          like a mother in the news

who measured her daughter’s growth through
the years pressed in a wedding dress          from the time

she was a baby          God she was too young
& fifteen was a good year for me—
In the desert time of Valley ache          in that wide bowl

of my hips          bone dry asparagus fields crackling
heatwave where I’m still burying placenta          fat as hearts

& beating back border roots with my fists
(I told the girl who said this poem is her one

chance          the doors will shut          love          in your face          love—
knock them down          climb the fucking fire

escape) year I first learned to light myself
on fire          call the firetruck of my own

body          that holy water          survival

Bird Bath (Baño de Pájaros)

Leonora Carrington, color serigraph on paper, 1974
The nunnery is made of them          cutouts
in the rooftops          their bodies          their wings
the Sisters are turning into birds
with plague masks          plague hearts
I call the birds          like a lover
in my bed          I’m a prayer blinded & turning
into a fountain          taunting past a girlhood
of ritual          first I needed to find the colors
flat on the wall          in the Museum of Latin American Art
first I needed to remember what it felt like          turning
pink & the Sisters scrubbing my wide pink eyes
sometimes I still turn          into pearl-colored flamingos
before they reach the sea
before the algae that will keep a season of pink
before their mating dances & pairing for life
& flying again          streamers peeling away after the party
or brine shrimp falling like petals          from the beak
I was bathed in lies          I was never that dirty
Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American poet from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize) and Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Series, University of Arkansas Press). Her honors include an NEA Fellowship, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship, the Frost Place Latin@ Scholarship, the 2015 Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, the Pinch Poetry Prize, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best of the Net 2015, Best New Poets 2013, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, TriQuarterly, and The Kenyon Review. She is Poetry Editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal and teaches at The Poetry Barn.

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