Five Poems by Jennifer Garfield

self portrait at 39

once, i was a tiny black dress
with the thigh slit high

like a ship’s prow.
made waves wherever

i sailed.
now, i wear my stomach

to the pool,
laced with dermal scars

purpled in sunlight –
shame of having a body.

shame of not having
a body –

it’s all lost in the water.
i gush,

my vessel a berth,
beat, boom, ballast,

i bight in all directions
and no body has drowned me

yet. how to become invisible?
become mother.

water everywhere
and nowhere.

become buckets.
buckets of holes.

buckets of thighs.
hold every body afloat.

and the slipping away?
don’t mention it.

let it tuck into the sea.
hold the sea, too.

didn’t your own mother
teach you how to sail.


dear algorithm, i have some questions for you
after Matthew Olzmann

there are 7,117 known languages
in the world today. you already

knew that. but did you know
i’ve been wearing the same

underwear for 3 days? you know
that question everyone asks

when they begin to understand
the limits of the mind – what if

my red is different than your
red? and what if we never find

the exact language to express
our exact shade of red to each

other? aka i am afraid i am
unknowable. enter you. enter

never again misunderstood.
enter can’t disappear

if we wanted to. is it too much
to say it feels my soul

has been air-tagged? did you know
i have a favorite child? have reimagined

intimacy many times? lately,
i’ve been thinking about Jonah.

like, what if, after 3 lonely days
wedged into the grooves

of a whale’s wet tongue,
he discovered something

about sonar. about the language
of love across distance. about

the relative nature of time
inside a whale. so close to

disappearing, there but for
the grace of god and all that.

all i’m saying is that before
we knew algebra or affiliate

marketing, we could escape
the sour breath of an enormous

whale with a little faith.
it occurs to me we have slid

deeper inside the underbelly.
hashem, it’s dark in here.

cavernous. but, like, what if
we are all in different caverns?

it would help me sleep
if you could understand

the exact dimensions
of my cavern and send

some comfort provisions.
ear wax removal hacks,

or adhd medication (for girls!),
to help me focus, and hear things,

like whale songs, if i ever went
to the sea, which i don’t.

but then you do hear this
sort-of, not-quite prayer

and send a video of some waves,
and a blazing sunset,

and peaceful music,
which is still a language

i understand after all.


after Gabrielle Calvocoressi

need food. coffee. hands. eyes.
10 more minutes. money. hope.
1-pot dinners. need science.
biologics. nurses to hold my
hand. need needles. pills.
passwords. better insurance.
need to levitate. to hold. to see
the future. need ancestors
to tell me which doctor
to choose. need chocolate.
zoom therapy. lexapro. a soft
mattress. need monthly mris.
blood work. constellations.
need that poem my 4th grade
teacher read after the shooting.
need truth or dare. dare you
to live to a ripe old age.
dare you to see the moon
with me each night. need
to be swallowed
by the vast black sky.
need you to live.
need you.


try not to worry
after Diane Seuss

here on this edge i have seen a herd of cows
in an unfamiliar meadow, grazing. tongue

to grass and grass to tongue, nursing
on the world and nobody to say it is too late

for all that. i say cows to nobody and continue
the drive, bluebells ringing alongside

my car’s dusty tunnel. i am remembering
how to live without worry. without remembering

yesterday’s shooting at the parade we went to
every year as kids. without remembering

my own kid’s mortality, there but for the grace
of science and the needle’s consonant warmth.

to think i worried about plastic in breastmilk
when she was born in a perfect cape of love.

was it then, first suckle, that we fell, our love
like raw knees kissing the ground. my oldest friend

who never left home texts to say the bullets
were coming from everywhere. from the sky

and the earth. i call her number from heart
but nobody answers. this isn’t the way we love

anymore. i call my people back from the edge
and who’s to say who hears. ears, after all,

a small slip of flesh between everything
and nothing.


something must burn

it’s like this every August
too hot for skin
something must burn
so why not let it
be me
save the forest
of your mouth
from matchstick
pressed to the neck
this world can be
so gentle
beneath a charred
this year i lose
my ancestor’s word
for water
memory scorched
from dna
listen. even the fossils
singe beneath us
they say this fire
started in Canada
but i know it’s here
inside me,
rose-blood blaze
i’ll take to my grave
the earth’s ship
already burning.


Jennifer Garfield is a poet and teacher in the Boston area. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including The Threepenny Review, On the Seawall, Passengers, West Trestle Review, and Frontier. She is the recipient of multiple awards including an Illinois Arts Council Literary Grant and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant.

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