Sunday Jun 23

PerrineJennifer Jennifer Perrine is the author of No Confession, No Mass (U of Nebraska P, 2015), winner of the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry; In the Human Zoo (U of Utah P, 2011), recipient of the 2010 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize; and The Body Is No Machine (New Issues, 2007), winner of the 2008 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry. Jennifer teaches courses in creative writing and social justice and directs the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, visit here.


The Mystic Speaks of Attachment

The mystic sits at the front of the hall,
cross-legged, intones, Attachment prevents
us from real love. As if one body, all
our heads bob up and down, nod our assent

to his wise words. We each want to open
wide to another, no need for control
or possession or desire’s keen talon
we’ve honed to rip, to rend, leave nothing whole.

After, in the bathroom, the mystic’s wife
leans against the sink, studying her arms
in the mirror. On each, an angry welt

flares. When she spots me staring at the scars,
she holds them out: faint tattoos that once spelt
names of old lovers, scraped off with a knife.

Lust | Chastity

Desire works its sliver, splinter,
            snag that undoes my lace,
a hurried unfurling, a gaze
            shot through a prism, your face

multiplied, magnified, your voice
            rumbling in the echo
chamber of my brain, how it swells
            like a river, this slow

current hastened by rain, dragging
   me swift around the bend,
your whisper a murder, water
            that drowns. No way to mend

what’s rent, cover this coveting,
            this swoopstake, cropneck want,
this ghost that stalks all my shadows,
            crouches in every haunt

where I try to hide, to escape
            your moan, a growing hymn
that muffles the murmur of vows
            barely remembered, dim

distant beacon flashing from shore.
            It’s no promise that keeps
me from the plunge, the risk of flood,
   lungs full, diving your deeps—

only I know the liquid thrum
            I’ve imagined—the lick
of salt where your shoulder meets throat—
            would be undone. Our quick

fingers would swallow all sound save
   the roar as we combust,
burn through every stitch, our conjured
   thrill now ebbing, now dust.


Begin with the dreams
   where you’re once again
a teen, alone, a strange
   city to navigate
without a map: the network
            of trains, buildings that turn blind
eyes as you pass, crisscross of streets
            without signs. Fumble inside: halls
that lack doors, elevator that lifts
            to an unmarked floor, opens to rooms
of raucous men, women’s red laughter. Now
            you’ve entered, there’s no way back out—only
two kids in the corner—greasy-haired, tattooed—
            who beckon you close, so you crouch low, listen
as they whisper, “We’re squatters here, too.” The warm wet
            air creeps over your skin as the dresses and suits
exhale mirth and gin, and against the thin reedy sound
   of it all, the firm whack of your boot against the wall,
pounding a steady, heady thump that breaks through the chatter,
            interrupts the revelry, and as the two kids join, feet
and fists cracking plaster, forces a silence, a hole, a breach.
            The faster you beat, the more sunlight pours in, until you’ve hacked
a wide, terrible grin, a maw into which you lean, an exit
    into wind that tears at all the people climbing the facade, picks
and ropes, the slow hoist, the vast haul yet to go, and you no longer know
            whether you still want out or to pull everyone in, or to tear down
the whole shining structure, level its concrete and glass, raze its wonder, leave
            not even a glimmer of that once distant place for you to remember.