Jennifer Givhan: Three Poems

Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American poet from the Southwestern desert. Her full-length poetry collection, Landscape with Headless Mama, won the 2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize (forthcoming 2016). Her honors include an NEA fellowship and a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship, the Frost Place Latin@ Scholarship, The Pinch Poetry Prize, the DASH Poetry Prize, a Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New PoetsAGNIThe Kenyon Review, Rattle (where she is a poetry prize finalist), and Southern Humanities Review (where she was a finalist for the 2015 Auburn Witness Prize). She is Poetry Editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal and she teaches at Western New Mexico University and online at The Poetry Barn.


Machine for Second Chances

Here we’ve tried blessing
the trauma, the fire to our skin
in which I’ve awoken crying who held the matches
into the matches of my hands.
What can I tell you? Love
held an iron’s cord to our necks, balanced
us atop a chair, tied an end around a metal rod
wedged in a doorway. Here
there is bird noise. Here, a muted desert & a murder
of crows.
I’ve heard of a machine that makes
meaning, like stardust. I’ve heard of second
chances before siphoning back into primordial
nothing: the stars in our bodies, fastening themselves
to breathing machines & beating
machines & spinning firing synapse machines
the way everything is weightless on the inside
of an unmoving body far
from any other body
like in space, like in nothingness.
Hawking says even black holes
are not completely black—
Here snakes in scrub oak
rattling. Here petroglyphs, & climbing
the lava rock mountain & the footholds steep
& the footholds careless—here,
where we step into our lives.


In the Shower with Sunday After Watching Lost

I panicked. Closed my eyes & I was
the shipwrecked woman who’d struggled ashore
to birth infant twins in the sand while
a woman already of the island
acted midwife long enough to pull
the screaming boys from the narrow canal
then murder their mother to steal them
for her own. I believed you capable of turning
smoke, turning monster. You might’ve needed
something of me I was not willing to give.
Shampoo stinging my eyes, you reached
to wash my face clear, but I flinched, then
slapped. It happens every time. You’d censor
my imagination if you didn’t believe in love.


Rosa Travels Back to the River, Becomes Her Mama

Full force she goes like star-tipped marigolds to the water
like blood, cold coffee, 1944: memories looping
holes in the one who sent her. He’d gone
to study Science. In the eternal city she’d bear babies—
she’d use her considerable brain, will them into existence
—they’d rise like cabbages from her mama’s garden
at the edge of the ridge where horses trot circles
& the Scientist taught her to stack her loves like elements,
to line them up mathematically by atomic weight, blocks
of light, blocks of wild brain chemicals, reacting.
He was gone, the Scientist who loved her badly—a violent
washing machine in her hips, tumbling. She suspects
a need for the dark memories the way mice who’ve lost them
in the cruel experiment return to the triangle electric though they once
knew better. (It goes away, the love, overfed & birthing time
travel. It led me to the girl in star marigolds, afloat in the water.)

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