Five Poems by Nicole Greaves

A Brief Introduction:

The following poems are from a collection in progress tentatively titled 21. The poems are spoken primarily through the voice of a fatherless young woman working to find herself sexually and emotionally as she moves through an affair with an older man. The poems draw, in part, from the object lessons Eavan Boland addressed in her book of the same title, especially in that sense of weaving into being.

Prosodically, one intention is to break with traditional forms by harboring sound and images in folds or waves. The use of backslashes aims to capture that push-pull tension between fluidity and fragmentation experienced by many women. Additionally, these reflect on the effects of generational trauma; how the sexual abuse a woman suffers informs her daughter.


–Italicized words in this poem come from the book Pedro Páramo
by Juan Rulfo

opening the book / I open the book again to the same page / it’s like
a card trick / I open it & again it happens like a third child / my
instructor must have stopped here infinitely / bright now faded lip
marks cover the page like he was kissing it / taking a bite / rusty lip
marks like the same mark of a mouth
that was on the corner of the Chevy Nova in my childhood
of pareidolia / I loved touching it like a scab / I stole a little each
day / I thought it would burn / wished for it / memory is
a premonition / inside his mouth were the words: It was raining
stars. He was sorry, because he would rather have seen a tranquil
sky. He heard roosters crowing. He felt the mantle… / I want to tell
him I know there’s a sleep in sleep / knows when something is
hollow inside / some babies can’t be born / I circle
the words / trace his mouth with a black ballpoint pen
& now it’s a cloud / smearing a little because the pen
is running / it all smells of caterpillars & feels of something
familiar / the desire to give a book away with asterisks / before
he dies / I think / his last thought will be ambitious



the clock stood glowing / disproportionately tall like
in a children’s book / disproportionately singular / he
meant to / was determined / a busy signal / before
there were cells / the glowing clock keening
the hours / was it radium that starred the time? / my mother
said don’t be / forgotten / I had to keep her alive / I started
thinking of Marie Curie / her radioactive possessions
/ a cookbook / chartreuse stalks of majestic celery / her own
hands / the train expelled breath / settled into the landing / children
singing in French / was there a French school nearby? / I wouldn’t
know / I knew “Frère Jacques” / a boy nodding like a stray
balloon / was he sleeping? / the man I was waiting for said I was
like Io / a heifer / hidden in plain sight / that’s just what beauty
is / he / Argus / too many eyes to see / the clock running behind
like a wedding trail / there wasn’t constant time / then / someone
always a minute off / always / the boy waved like in his own
drawing / he would want to show me if he could break away / his
mittened-hand like a fish thrown back too small to eat



you’re almost / in the tea-dark / he said a beauty
/ talent / close to the edge / on the verge / maybe
why the vertigo / the shivering / couldn’t pee with the door
shut / the whole world would disappear / a mother



on the dance floor I was as warm as
any split / like later / I was almost there / was
almost / covered in bees / how it
should be / in the cacophony / surrendered /
the vibration like a train / my instructor would later say
it doesn’t get better than that / the engine / he said
read more Sappho / peel potatoes to compensate for
melancholy / the treaties / be graceless to find it / find it
like honey / dancing in a gold sequins dress I was a candle
that becomes landscape / his / where he could
park his song / mine / tiny hairs rising
on my body in his breath / like closing
a door or folding a letter of true confession / I became
the negative capacity over the electric
moss and sea glass / the kelp / his anchoring
like recovery in a 12-step program / I shouldn’t
have / he scribed his apology / it was never what he
was / just how it was / how we / how it is I am
history / was his / more / vibrant in my trail


If I Find Myself Destitute Again, He Said Remember This

after making love / or before / he held a mirror up /
my naked body / told me to look / into a well / how I came
into this Earth / eyes drooping / unlived lived sorrow / a mole
above my left eye / sanctimony / the ancestors / the ones
I knew / how I became filled with mercy / I noticed
my fragrance / broken oranges / my hothouse self / Aegean
brown eyes / a slight ripple on each ear / perforated /
Hebe / no one would notice this again he warned / fatherless
girl / what you give will sustain you / in a backroom / papers
like bandages / he stamped my fingerprints into the mirror /
like ferns / like when water breaks / rings in the trees


Nicole Greaves holds an MFA from Columbia University and an M.Ed. in special education from Chestnut Hill College. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary reviews and magazines, most recently SWWIM, Cleaver, and Matter, and was awarded prizes by The Academy of American Poets and the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia. She was a 2015 finalist for the Coniston Prize of Radar Poetry, who also nominated her for The Best of the Net. She was a 2020 finalist for the Frontier Digital Chapbook Contest and the Dogfish Head Poetry Contest. Recently, her full-length manuscript was a finalist for Glass Lyre’s first 2021 open reading period. Nicole is a former poet laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and lives right outside Philadelphia, where she teaches English and creative writing at The Crefeld School and is the book editor for Ovunque Siamo.

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