Tag Archive for 'sexuality'

Poems by Jennifer Givhan

LOVESONG OF THE BARREN WOMAN

1. Shipwreck

                Water, water everywhere
                              and not a drop to drink

I sing of PCOS—
That pirate disease, launching its scourge on my red woman’s deck,
goading my dreams as they walk the plank
with a splash and a plop.

I thirst. For round belly flesh.
For a living inner-tube to keep me afloat.

Any sea creature caught in my gut would tread oil spills
and the plastic necklaces of aluminum cans,
finding no safe spot to anchor.

I met a woman who had her tubes cut at twenty-two
and has never once regretted the decision.

I could be her twisted sister. Her mirror-image. Her tocaya.
In her I see reflected my own incision, ectopic wounds.
Gloved oars slice through k-y jellies;
they navigate my shame.

Clomid pops like fish eggs on my blackened tongue,
Eucharist to the bleeding woman.
One pill two pills red pill blue pill.

Hapless fisher kings in shining yellow slickers fishhook
my ovaries, but the fish swim away, and the wires snap back empty.
There will be no dinner tonight though the villagers are starving.

Sponge pads soaking in saltwater choke the angelfish.
Mussels suction my gut.
I’ve beads tonguing my cauliflower flesh,
strings lovely and strange;

If only I could peel them off, these sticky pearls
aborted before they’ve grown protective shells,

I’d rise, I’d rise in sprays.

2. Looking Glass

                   The image in the mirror appears whole
                             though I swear I am a fragment.

Columnar self,
I am my own grotesque other body.

I fell asleep inside my pod and woke to red,
where oceans are dry as salt flats, where red means lost
and lost means dead.

When the blood comes, yet again, unwanted,
hold high the striped umbrella, and sing
rain, rain go away to passersby, to gawkers
who have never seen a bloated caterpillar
sway in quite that way.

Tell them I am growing once more and soon
will overgrow this crumbling hull.
I’ve sublet my stomach to the construction workers:

Screw the landlady.
Who owns this house?
I am a troubadour.

My plump toes are spreading,
wrapping the branches of my mildewed limbs,
and the round tips of my fingers are sprawling wildly
for I have been eating too many pitahayas.

Now the juicy seeds have planted inside my nectar bosom,
and my roots are tearing through the chalky red walls
that hold this broken house-heart up,
creating cracks wide enough
for even the snails to crawl through.

Fissures of the soul? There is not space
enough nor time to fill me—yet
I am full to flowing and overripe.

3. Shell Shock

           Mother-woman, other woman, in my bed,
                      She’s the woman, fertile woman, hollowing my head.

Caroline has a baby girl.
She’s beautiful, intelligent,
stacks Thomas the Train building blocks in perfect rows.

Our pieces wedge together and converge
in that brown haired baby with seashell eyes,
she’s yours, not mine.

I am nineteen again and barefoot on the cold pavement porch,
gray USC sweatshirt to my knees, poised beneath
the veined trellis that raises its arms in wordless salute
to a crisp desert sky of stars hung like brittle ornaments,
cordless phone pressed to my ear.

I cannot understand his hesitation—
You strayed. I forgive you. I say. We can work it out.

Across the street red and green chaser lights blink
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.
But the sound rattles my ear canal, ricochets in a tunnel,
aerial gunnery, practice in the nearby Chocolate Mountains:

You don’t understand. He tells me.
Caroline is pregnant with my child.

The phone through the earth hums softly away in a manger.
His voice, a lone coyote’s distant howl,
stabs my moon, my heart, my breasts, my womb—
bits of body stubbornly casing spirits, dead weight, crushed ice.
And all around flashes
Merry Christmas, Merry
Christmas.

 

NINE MONTHS PREGNANT AFTER FIVE YEARS INFERTILITY & ONE (BEAUTIFUL) ADOPTION

Not so different: excitement the same.
Planning the same, packing, the same.

I’d long thought myself a pitted plum rotting,
but here I’m rooting, shooting, spiraling, curling,
and still, the same.

As usual, August swamps and spits down my face,
my breasts;  it gathers under my folds and pits
and crevices like jellies within their pots
and balms the backs of my knees.

Reading a book is the same. This one’s Erica Jong’s
Fear of Flying. I’d never read it, but pleasure
unfolds, mind unwraps, unspools even pops
and pulls the same. Tentacles uncoil the same.

Plums taste the same. I just finished a deeply
purple one, spotted and bruised,
pit perfectly intact. God it was sweet.

But even sweetness, even overflowing
and hearty and arching and malting and moon
heavy and cow eyed and summer sprawled,
sweetness is the same.

My son lies napping in his bed.
My daughter sidewinds my gut.
Dreaming, both.

But hopes. Fears. Loves.
Aches like soft loaves of bread. Weight
of worlds and oceans and maternity and eternity
in my blood. And my blood. And my blood.
The same.

                 first appeared in Poetry Quarterly

 

 

Jennifer Givhan was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, a St. Lawrence Book Award finalist, and a Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Prize finalist for her poetry collection Red Sun Mother. Nominated for the 2012 Best of the Net, Givhan’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in over forty journals, including Prairie Schooner, Contrary, Rattle, The Los Angeles Review, Fickle Muses, and Crab Creek Review. She attends the MFA program at Warren Wilson College, teaches composition at The University of New Mexico, and is at work on her second novel and poetry collection. You can visit Givhan online at www.jennifergivhan.com.

4 Poems by Laura Thompson

Outgrown

The pet store owner hates me.
The bags of skittering crickets
I buy can’t make up for the sales
he’s lost. Releasing swarms of doubt
among his customers, I tell them
how big those babies behind glass will get.
The sulcata tortoise that fits
in your child’s mouth will be 200 pounds.
The frog sitting on your thumb eats fruit flies
now, rats later. In a year, that iguana will need
his own room. Caiman is just another
word for Crocodile. Is it animal welfare
that makes me speak up, or my own
fear of a life that will outgrow
the space I leave for it? When my eight-months
pregnant friend says how much she wants
this baby out, I don’t tell her
about my embryo, just another word
for a baby so small I didn’t know I’d brought
it home, how my deformed
uterus ran out of room at eight weeks,
and the tissue meant to cushion crushed.

My Boyfriend’s Miscarriage

On a Harley Davidson notepad, I draw
a normal uterus: pear-shaped, adorned on either side

with ovaries, and then mine, upside down, toppled
by a mass of eggs on one side, nothing

on the other, fallopian tubes
a gnarled ball of yarn.

The perspective father of my children
still isn’t convinced: Wouldn’t a child

 from your own body mean
more? Wouldn’t that be worth

the risk? I find him sobbing, face down
on our mattress, clutching

a Christmas photo—his niece’s bald head
covered by a Santa hat, smiling despite

chemo and swollen cheeks—he flinches
when I brush against his hip where a drill

pierced his femur, drawing rich red marrow
from the hollows of his pelvis to patch holes

in a child’s blood, the only relative whose genes
matched. Nine months later, the cells he donated

have died inside her. I was wrong
he says. That’s the last part of us
I want to lose.

“Inappropriate” Lactation After a Miscarriage

To not “take possession of.”
To not “set apart for a particular use.”
Not “fitting, suitable, apt.”
Not milk, but milky,
meant for a baby never
truly possessed.
Not white, but bluish gray,
insinuating itself into a bra’s
lace when someone else’s baby cries.

Set apart but not useful,
twin tumors the heart beats against–
ignore the pressure, refuse to release it,
and it will go away.
“Express” it and it will never
stop. Soothe with frozen
cabbage leaves, brittle green reminders
that babies are not found
where they were thought to be.
The only cure: to become
fertile again. What is natural
can also be wrong.

Heat

Inside a freshly laid egg, a gecko
begins female, but temperature
changes everything. Incubators
set at 75 guard oviducts, but
crank to 80 and androgen pools
in hemipenal pores. A simple formula, unless
a thermostat malfunctions and temps
reach 90, for an egg just shy of omelet
hatches “hot female.” Sterile, chunky,
aggressive, they savage males who try
to mount them, dance a slithering samba
when “normal” females approach.

Off her meds because of me, my mother
hid in closets and crawl spaces
in June, heat stroke less threatening
than life. Were those prenatal summer
months the reason the dress shop calls
my waist a “size other?” Did it make
me throw a desk at the teacher who said
I’d never find a husband peering
through a microscope? Is that
why I sizzle in a woman’s
arms like butter
beneath scrambled egg?

Laura Thompson earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of the Fine Arts and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in English and Comparative Literature, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Tributary, The Rectangle, and Tiger’s Eye. She is also a part-time English and Creative Writing instructor and serves on the editorial staff at the Cincinnati Review.

Read our interview with Laura Thompson conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Male Miscarriage, Reptilian vs. Human Mating Rituals and Inappropriate Lactation.

Gone

Fiction by Ethel Rohan

         My fingers traced the diagonal scars that ran from my armpits and across the memory of my breasts, the stitches long dissolved and the red, angry skin faded to pink. My other hand moved to my stomach and traveled up and down its long vertical scar, this one more purplish than pink. All the scars dry and flaky. Fish spines.

          I listened to the birdsong outside my bedroom window and decided to put off going to the hospital until the afternoon. I was no longer a patient, but sometimes returned to volunteer. I liked to hold the babies that didn’t have visitors, to breathe in their freshness and sing them to smiles. I had my first Friday off in months from the diner and felt glad to be free of the customers’ small-talk, of their complaints and ogles. One thing I was never free of was the diner’s deep-fried air. It hung all around me and wouldn’t wash away. Still, I liked my job well enough and could do it robot-like while I day-dreamed. Jason, a handsome, square-jawed, blue-eyed regular who wasn’t coy about his wish to have me on the menu, would be disappointed by my absence. I smiled into my pillow. Sometimes, while I carried the trays and wiped down the tables, I fantasized about Jason and me going out together, to a movie or a nice restaurant. I wouldn’t let myself think beyond that. I couldn’t imagine the two of us alone together.

My neighbor’s colicky baby wailed. Their back door smacked closed. I moved from my warm bed to the window. My neighbor stood in her dark pajamas and bare feet in the grass, her hands on her hips and dark head turned up to the sky. I tried to remember her name. The baby’s cries climbed and my neighbor’s hands covered her ears. Months back, her husband had deployed to Iraq. He had yet to meet his son. She was always polite, but distant, and seemed to want to keep to herself. That suited me. In addition to the fussy newborn, she had two little girls. Her name came to me, Nancy. I dressed quickly, tried not to look at my too-big bed.

Just as I reached my front door, the kitchen phone shrilled. It was likely my dad, and if I didn’t answer, he’d worry. It turned out to be Jason. His voice sent me bobbing in warm, shiny water. He had bribed the new busboy for my number, said he never again wanted to have breakfast without me. He’d never had breakfast with me, I corrected, just delivered by me. The sneaky, small-eyed busboy had also given him my address. Jason asked to come over. I warned him not to dare. He chuckled. I pictured his thick, shiny-with-maple-syrup lips and again felt a rush of pleasure.

“I want to show you my latest drawing,” he said.

The next door baby continued to cry. “I have to go, seriously.”

“I drew you.”

My insides recoiled, and I rushed the receiver down.

Jason sometimes brought his sketches to the diner, mostly of hawks, trees, the ocean, and everyday people. Gifted, he managed to bring out in his subjects something I’d never have noticed: the hawks’ intelligent eyes and the blue in their black talons; green leaves so smooth, shiny, and thick I wanted to pet them; and emotions in people’s faces that lifted right off the page. He was gifted, yes, but he’d no right to draw me without my permission, to take from me like that.

I walked along the side of Nancy’s house and called out over her wooden fence. The baby wailed. Moments later, Nancy pulled open her front door. She stood tall and thin and appeared ill. Her face was pale, and she had greenish circles under her eyes. Her long gray-black hair was messed and unwashed. I tried not to react to her body odor, and followed the baby’s cries upstairs. The unclean smell pervaded the house and yet everything, the carpet, wallpaper, and furnishings, looked washed-out. There was also the smell of burnt toast.

The baby lay on his side in his crib, his face a dangerous red. His eyes were scrunched shut and his mouth was open wide. His colorless fingers gripped the bars on his crib, and I had to peel the spongy digits free. I lifted him, and he roared. I hugged him to my shoulder and shushed at his damp ear. Nancy apologized, explained. She had tried everything. I urged her to take a shower and to nap. I would stay. Nancy protested. She couldn’t, she shouldn’t. I insisted. His mother gone, the baby kicked his legs inside his yellow pajamas and jerked his fists. He cried harder. His large bald head pushed and rooted at my prosthetic bra and his greedy grunts turned frantic. I had only my baby finger to offer. The force of his suck hurt and frightened me, could rip my finger right off.

I carried him outside to the garden, the sky boy-blue and the sun hidden behind clouds. The cool breeze startled him into silence. I bounced him in my arms and praised and cooed. He started-up again. I sang to him, soft and low. Overhead, the plovers circled and seemed to listen, to sing back. The baby quieted and closed his eyes. We returned inside. I cradled him in his rocking chair and breathed-in his sweet-and-sour milky smell. My thoughts returned to Jason. I wondered how he’d drawn me.

For sure, at thirty-two, he would never have depicted me as scarred, breastless, and barren. I had chosen to hedge my bets and allowed the surgeons to get ahead of the white spots in my breasts and lymph nodes, to cut away at me.

On the street, a car slowed and stopped. Its door closed. I held the baby and my breath and strained to hear.

Jason waited on my front porch for over an hour. Twice, I’d signaled from the baby’s window and indicated he should go. He waved away my gestures and leaned back against my front door, his black artist’s case by his hip. I left Nancy recharged and her baby still asleep. At the end of her front path, I almost turned left instead of right, but pressed on to my house and Jason. His easy smile almost made me bolt. He wore faded, ripped jeans and a tight red t-shirt. Red, despite everything, was still my favorite color. We sat on the barstools at my messy kitchen island, there junk mail and other bits of me scattered about. I wished everything was more in order.

I followed his gaze to the reproduction Frida Kahlo on the opposite wall. He scrutinized Kahlo’s naked breasts, open torso, shattered spine, body harness, and the nails that punctured her flesh. He turned back to me with an uncertain smile. I offered coffee, but he refused. His attention turned to the single pine chair at my tiny kitchen table. I’d put its mate in the garage. He reached for his artist’s case. I jumped at the coffeemaker.

I put a mug of steaming coffee in front of him, and told him about the baby next door, the babies in the hospital. In the end, I was the one who reached for his portfolio. He’d captured me in profile, as I scribbled a customer’s order, the obligatory smile on my face. My dark hair was tied up and its loose strands caught behind my ear, curling toward my throat. My prosthetic breasts pushed against my pink uniform, smaller than my real breasts. He’d shaded my face, trapped me in shadow.

I pushed the drawing aside. “It’s not me.”

He looked from me to the drawing and back again, perplexed.

I reappeared in the kitchen, my shirt and bra removed and the black camisole clinging to my small boy chest. I dropped my hands to my sides. He searched my face, swallowing. I told him how much was gone. He held my gaze.

“You want to try again?” I asked, my face hot.

He nodded. I tried to slow my breath, to stop shaking. He moved the pine chair to the window. Seated, the sun warmed my head and shoulder. I peeled off the camisole and dropped it to the floor. I looked straight at him. His pencil danced over the paper.

Ethel Rohan is the author of Hard to Say, PANK, 2011 and Cut Through the Bone, Dark Sky Books, 2010, the latter named a 2010 Notable Story Collection by The Story Prize. Her work has or will appear in The Good Men Project, The Chattahoochee Review, Los Angeles Review, Potomac Review and Southeast Review Online among many others. She earned her MFA in fiction from Mills College, California. Raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan is now a resident of San Francisco, California. Visit her at ethelrohan.com  and read her most recent work here.

Rohan’s “Gone” was featured in this post and lively discussion (replete with additional story and poem suggestions for further reading) here at The Lit Pub.

Read our interview with Ethel Rohan conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz: The Power of Domestic Realism, Male Protagonists and the Dual Degree: Mills and Motherhood.

 




Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.