Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Jacqui Germain





Forgiving the Fire for All the Nights It Burned


It’s a kind of showmanship

            to gather the wicks and still be shocked at the blazing mess / offended
            the fire dared to become itself / to leap against these tiny man-made things
            and eat until ash / How dare it / drink the storefront glass until the parking lots

                        were a diamond highway / to crackle, crackle at the thousands of wide-eyed
                        creatures, screen-lit and hungry / as they glared through livestream feeds,
                        unmoving and shocked / watching swarms of heat billow beneath the moonlight,

                                    flex against the night sky like an arrogant, thirsty thing / How dare the
                                    fire want a thing and then eat it whole / How dare it want / while the
                                    thin prayer of a TV camera flickers its own need—a slight twitch

                                                at the corner of its mechanic mouth turns its lips neurotic, wired
                                                by compulsion / and a willingness to gorge itself / and it feels
                                                full—of something—when the people watch / even as their teeth

                                                            crown around the prayer like a ring of wet fingers / having
                                                            dug into the feast of raised hands and burning plastic /
                                                            How the nailbeds didn’t come back blistered and peeling

                                                                        and smelling / of teargas must be a feat of design;
                                                                        in fact, that’s the show / of it all, you know?1 / How
                                                                        the sky fell into flame and was turned into a candle

                                                                                    / for them.



1. What welcome collision—sputtering flames fracturing against the midnight sky / writing the
equation for the bomb / then oh no, oh god, it worked / and the decades of ghosts and ash after


What for the black girls—


for the black girls who cut their teeth
            so sharp their gums bleed when they chew?
for the black girls who culled the love out
            cuz it costs too much soft?
for the black girls who drained the damp blessing
            from their bone marrow to make room for guns?
for the black girls hoping they
            break so they
for the black girls who let go of the sun in their lovers’
            cheeks just so they could sleep?
for the black girls who made the nightmare a bed
            so it could rest, too?—cuz even a memory-thing
                                                            warped into a monster needs
                                                                       to sleep sometimes.
for the black girl who lost her mind on the way
            to getting free and replaced it?
for the black girl who replaced it with any
            thing moving, hungry, breathing, throat-wet, alive?
for the black girl whose moving, hungry, breathing
            keeps her here, but also keeps her every
thing for itself?
for the black girl whose throat-wet alive
            eats through the stale death in her fingers,
                        (thank you
                                    —oh )
                        but eats her, too?
for the black girl, headless and alive? Fingerless and alive?
            A whole / terrible, dripping / monster, but / also
                                    a blessing) /
                        alive, too?


Ulcer (with footnotes)
In response to a 2013 performance poem repurposing Michael Brown’s autopsy


In this one, he writes the same poem1
about Michael Brown’s autopsy,
pulling the bones up out of the bleach and splaying
the wet bounty across a thick metal table,
a string of footnotes
lolling off the page’s bottom lip
like a row of confetti-ed news stories
brightening under a harsh & hungry light.

In this one, he writes the same
poem2 and instead of the QuikTrip, someone douses
a stack of canonized texts in flame,
the pages roaring in protest against their charred
and curled edges—maybe that
or some other nightmarish destruction
that poets grieve in theory.

In this one, he writes the
same poem3 and the lining
of my stomach begins to curdle.
The theory is the world is burning
and so might the books; the theory is
to save the books, we burn something
else; the theory is anything
can be fodder for almost anything.

In this one, he writes
the same poem4, and my body retches
across the stage, covers the microphone in the blood-
wet applause of last night’s dinner, reverse
burial, the machine’s gears
click-clicking the casket back up
into the hungry, hungry world again.


1. How small and wanting / to experiment
into the void of another life;

2. how gratuitous the gaping mouth,
the loud, gnawing hunger-wonder in the direction

3. of someone else’s grief / because art.

4. Because.


Photograph by Jacqui Germain by Jessica Page.

Jacqui Germain is a poet and journalist living in St. Louis, MO currently working on her first full-length poetry collection. Her writing often involves an excavation of history and memory, attempting to challenge linear assumptions of time, progress, power, and experience through an intimate lens. Germain has received fellowships from the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, Jack Jones Literary Arts, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the Poetry Foundation's Emerging Poets Incubator. Her poems have been published in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Anomaly, The Offing, Muzzle Magazine, and elsewhere, in addition to being anthologized in Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3 and others. More from this author →