TWO POEMS by Jennifer Givhan

/ / Issue 7, Poetry


Then I remembered: Mama wasn’t gone
   but safe, in her bed, turning in sleep. It was I

who went away—from Chopin in the bones,
   palms heavy with dates like dark

purple fingers reaching toward sand, toward fruit
   sickly sweet outside Mama’s

bedroom window turned mine, her girlhood
   unloosed in mine, on the ground, rotting yellow.

But skyward: a salted moon, a brittle
   sound, a bed of headstone with its high-

pitched calling like a night animal hunting,
   no, a night animal hunted, in distress

and calling, but the mama’s turned
   deaf—no, the mama’s the one

yowling in the night shrub, taken, only
   the predator’s not the barn-owl. The predator’s

prickling gooseflesh of the chest
   turned to full-fledged breasts

and shared with boys, too early
   to understand how it would haunt

into her parent years… into a time her children
   would come searching for her in bed

like the icehouse in town before it closed,
   the ice inside too cold and melted too quickly

into a time she knows will be coming
   when her children search in other beds

and find instead a field,
   where the road dead ends into the basin,

nothing but high grass lit by a pale streetlight…
   Mama would turn on the music, sometimes

she played her flute and I would dance.
   Growing up I heard stories of Mama’s life

but it never occurred to me she was alive
   for anyone but me, her daughter.

I understand now how she needed
   me—no, how she made music of me

and I was rescuing her from dark
   rooms and nights darkly lit, the slapping hands

and terrible hands and the history of genes
   that replicate themselves in the smallest versions

of ourselves: we play a piece of music
   listening, not for time, though time is constant,

but for something deep in the belly…
   for Mama, who couldn’t keep us

from aching, no—who gave us song
   as gesture for pain.



September 13th, a bright diamond-shaped light appeared in the sky
above all of central New Mexico


I’ve found the warmth Mama left in her bed
when she rose to watch the sun making pink sheets
of clouds through her window.
The balloon is risen above earth’s atmosphere
collecting celestial gamma rays
where our imperfect sight cannot reach
and then the sun is too bright;
she closes her eyes, and I can tell
she’s imagining herself in that unmanned
balloon. I want to say the instrument is already
in you, cosmic & infinitesimal… but she moves
her face behind a curtain, the moment arrives
and is gone. That light, her light,
while it was rising, lent meaning to the sky.


So we continue—the birds with their funny
pointed beaks, their ancient flapping. A child
born to rescue us. In Sunday mass
I would fix my gaze on Mary in her blues,
Mary prone at his bloody feet as I sang we will soar
but God must have known what I meant.
It’s not as if the sky is empty for me now—
even on the coldest mornings
in New Mexico, they rise
as lanterns in our land of enchantment
they rise, in jewel-tones or flag
stripes, in the oldest human-carrying
flight, with their chambers of air, they rise, burning
air into their bright billows.
My favorite resembles a sparrow.



Issue 7 Contents                                        NEXT: Yellowed by Steven D. Schroeder