Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Jennifer Givhan

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The Butterflies

Two chrysalids didn’t make it through their rebirths. We’ll bury them in the backyard, at Lina’s request, sending them back to the earth. All the other butterflies flew away but the one the children named Wilbert wouldn’t or couldn’t so we’re keeping him. The children say he’s not ready to leave.

~

Wilbert has flown away. The two greyish green chrysalids are brittling in the backyard. I haven’t the heart to bury them yet. I must steel my nerves, for Lina.

~

Good thing we hadn’t held the chrysalid funeral yet. The two butterflies emerged. Damaged wings but reborn. We were just readying the funeral when I picked up the jar and Lina exclaimed There’s butterflies! The shock made her stomach ache. Now she’s crying happy tears her butterflies are back from the dead.

~

Lazarus butterflies!
One’s wing is curled completely into the other, as if still wrapped in its chrysalis.
They both drink sugar water from a sponge.

~

I’m so relieved I never took the plunge:
my neck, the cord.

 

The Baby Monitor

The neighbor   off to the market for bags of salad        leaves
me alone with her baby monitor I’ve set on my balcony
splintered with jags of wood sharpened by rain & rot leaving
scars of yellow paint        I ponder what husband or party or
dinner plan would warrant leaving one’s baby in the hands of
a black & white device crackling static in the hands of a woman
who stands on her balcony at night in nothing but stars & the
oven of July        pink as the innards of poultry

I’m misrepresenting myself        I never owned a baby monitor
Could never leave my babies               long enough to need one

The baby sleeps for hours the mother tells me        Only call
911 if the house is on fire

Over the muted gray waves of monitor that baby keeps balling
her fists        pulling the cross-hatched blanket over her head
It seems too thick        The screen goes black sometimes & I
click an eye-shaped button        fearing what I’ll find when the
fuzzy baby reemerges        I haven’t seen her melon head in
minutes        All blanket        She rustles as a small mammal in
a cave of her pack-&-play crib        like the portable crib we
took to Michigan when we adopted our boy        carrying
through LAX all those empty accoutrements of small life: car
seat        stroller        diaper bag        pack-&-play        No baby

People kept glancing skeptically at my squishy midsection
in confusion or grief or pity        looked away

I was a motel bed        a rental space      a mother of loss
sheened of wet leaves waiting for paperwork to go through
no idea what to do when the baby kept vomiting his fawn
Enfamil bottles the hospital had sent us home with

The months before his birth        I’d tried hormones for
stimulating milk flow        suction-cupped my breasts until my
nipples went from sore to numb        Still nothing

That child has grown so tall        He’s a mass of unkempt curls
he will not let me brush & shirts-off        shorts-backwards
all summer        He says he may move to Michigan when he grows
up & doesn’t mean to hurt me

The baby didn’t sleep nearly as long as the mother said        It’s
a burden       all this watching        all this distance        A cloth-
draped chair        or maybe a vacuum        appears to me as a
ghost

Of course none of this is about the neighbor mother

A light flashes        A blur        The baby may have woken
May have found the monitor        & with her dimpled        baby
hands        knocked it over

If I were a machine I’d make babies every year        one new &
shining unbroken thing a piece

Who knows what happens next        What smothers or burns

 

M o t h e r !

__i.

the tarot grubs spread in the wound
everything breaks         the house smells of garbage

the miniature dog has eaten splinters
they root in her small stomach

another night we rubbed essential oil
on a grungy green paper dollar     folded into

triangles in a stout copper pot & lit it
with matches my baby girl in her footy pajamas

used to set the incense burning & my hand
slipped      the fire caught her foot & scoured

a hole through the flame-resistant fabric
clean through to her new skin  then comes Death

the final outcome: what should’ve been freely given
will be taken by force     we peel our faces off & run

__ii.

through a grove of oranges      bright globes
against the rind of moon we’ve implored not

for metaphor but for food     our bellies bulge
& the little dog is chewing our calves our knees

we bend to set her gnawing tree bark instead
we cannot bend & the world is rising

as another morning     the hot air balloon
outside my bedroom window on the ancient mesa

I told my baby daughter of the ones I’d dropped
when I was a girl child & when I was a woman

with a tractor man a plough man a man who dug
into the rocks & weeds where I was hiding

__as we’re hiding? she whispers   faceless    & I sing
yes darling    keep the grass to your belly    don’t let go

__iii.

as I unlatched from mine         for she was damaged
for she pressed her belly to kitchen tile & let

a father man a tin-can man a bearded silver steak-
knife man call her fat call her shit call her

mine was glorious once    I’ve heard
the night insects & the bats screeching toward nectar

their offspring clinging to their bare chests
as they fly toward the cacti that only bloom one

night a year      & they do drink & they do drink
for they have starved in their caves to make milk

by now the threat has passed or the cacti have needed
us too              what fruits we’ve collected

we squash into our mouths & the daughter asks
juice dribbling down her new skin       where has she gone?

__iv.

I have feared                & I have feared the question
was coming


Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert and the author of three full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series), and Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize). Her honors include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship, the Frost Place [email protected] scholarship, a National Latino Writers’ Conference scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, and the Pinch Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review. She is Editor-in-Chief of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and teaches at The Poetry Barn and Western New Mexico University. More from this author →