Friday Oct 18

MilitelloJennifer Jennifer Militello is the author of Knock Wood, winner of the Dzanc Nonfiction Prize (Dzanc Books, 2019), as well as four collections of poetry, including A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments (Tupelo Press, 2016), called "positively bewitching" by Publishers Weekly, and Body Thesaurus (Tupelo Press, 2013), named one of the top books of 2013 by Best American Poetry. Her work has been published widely in such journals as American Poetry ReviewThe Kenyon ReviewThe NationThe New RepublicThe Paris ReviewPOETRY, and Tin House. She teaches in the MFA program at New England College.
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Sibling Medusa
 
In the pictures, the hair snakes all look the same,
though I know better. Every snake is a different
persona, though all are out for murder.
 
Every hiss is a criticism unfettered. Every
head is a hatred on its leash. Every slither is
a movement toward hurting me further
 
like our mother. I learned long ago to only
approach you from the mirror. Your scales
overlap; they have the phalanx of your heart.
 
All my shields crumble, all my winged shoes fail.
You are my sister. My love for you is a ladder
I climb until I fall. There is a Red Sea in my blood
 
and it is your mood, venomous at root, ever-changing
as a god. There is a Red Sea in my blood and
I must keep it still as its tides would drown us,
 
as our parents still hope we will break bread.
We believed you were a priestess. We put you
on the urns, we lifted you up and loved you alone.

Now you are a monster and want me gone. Were I
to carry it as a weapon, your head would turn on me.
I am only one of the statues that surround your lair.
 
All of our family is there, posed and still, paralyzed
by your punishment, your scathe, your skill.
Where I had my home, I am no longer at home.

I was closest. I was in your crib. I was in your bed.
I wore your clothes. I shared your name. Is this
why you hate me? Is this why I now see the deadly
 
inside red of a thousand stretched-open mouths?
Your serpents control me. Your eyes are voiced over.
I don’t know you. Where is my sister.
 

 
Poem to the Word of My Name
 
Of a vowel’s fat lip. Of a consonant’s black eye.
Of an alchemy like a dirt path or a train track
 
or a carousel ride. Linked together with string
the tongue provides as it loosens and contracts
 
and makes contact with the teeth. An end
is almost in you. Also, a sniff. A hook with which
 
to gather space. A growl or snarl at your finish.
A single star in the sky above, calling three kings
 
to the place where you rest. Name of mine
people say in their sleep. Oil in the lamp

that never burns down. Catastrophe waiting
to begin. Inside me, your insect legs sing. Inside me,
 
your cellos resound. Your particles are reliquaries.
Your monasteries dust. You are full of pins
 
and needles, you are full of crimes I have yet
to commit. Hospital ruins in which pigeons nest,

abandoned asylums overgrown. I imagine my mother’s
first furtive glance, how she saw your syllables there

in the book or heard them said behind the flex
of a hand. Perhaps as a whisper that gave birth to

the wail of this daughter. A canvas sail opened before
the wind of the ear. Now I am here. I wear your sound
 
like a skin. To me, it is inaudible. To me, it is
a fingertip or heart cell. Wrist bone, rib bone, or tail.
 

 
What My Mother Wears
 
The cloth hearts of marionettes
like the teeth of sharks around
her neck. Dried seahorses for
decoration, belfries for a skirt.
She has only one petal left; no one
can decide if she loves me or not.
She is smothered in a liquid that
looks like blood, but when you
taste it, it is eau de toilette. From
the day we met, I have been her
baby clocking down through
time, the weedling she forgets.
Her attachment to me breaks down
once she kisses the crown of my head.
 
She wears the smirk of a newborn,
the target practice of the weak.
She wears sheepskin while it is still
on the sheep. Her barometer reads
low candor like a pressure in the mouth.
She disasters it out in the public restroom
and her memoir happens there
in the mirror, where she will not look.
She cooks vegetables to mush.
She lusts after transferrable guilt.
She pulls a velvet rope; the curtain
goes up. She can sing and dance.
She can laugh or cough. When asked
what’s real, she bows out, by choice.
 

 
My Mother Is in Antarctica
 
My mother is in Antarctica.
My mother is at the southernmost
continent where explorers have died
without their tents and dogs have
eaten one another for want of food.
Among penguins, on a ship built
for weather, on a ship built for shore.
My mother is in Antarctica, clean
in the race to the end of the world.
It is her heart. It is her heart. It is
the coldest place on earth. It is
a sample of ice core one million
years old. I can imagine her
at its edge, walking out,
with the bitterness in her fingers
and her nostrils seizing up.
My mother is in Antarctica where
nothing borders, nothing grows,
ten thousand miles from other land.
 
My mother is the dead silence
that happens when the barking ends
and all the ships have sailed. My mother
in her seal skins, my mother on
her supply sled, my mother not dead
like the others, feeding her dogs to
one another, feeding rations to her wolves.
Starving down to her bones in order to
uncover her shape at its most unloving,
her sharpness she knows has been inside,
but only now can know. My mother
with her glow of a skin made new
by raw wind, with ruddy cheeks and
chattering teeth. My mother is left
without even a beating heart and, inside
her, the continent is counting down.
The ghosts of explorers ghosting
her hand, and her breath turning to
mist and icicles in her husband’s beard.
 
My mother is ice crack and glacier
abyss. I imagine her here, still
witnessing herself as there is a slow
freeze from her black heart onward
to the sled-pulling dogs, as there
is a small flame where she would
warm her hands, but her wool mittens
stiff with wet, but her trimmed hair
riven with ice, but her chapped
hands signaling and injured, but
the bulk of her body unseen beneath
layers and a scarf over her mouth
moistened as she speaks. As it
all freezes over, her eyes are shut,
flakes at her lashes, flakes at her
lips, and I imagine her ice queen
at last, crowned, jagged blackening
of her shadowed face, wind howling,
wind biting. Ice storm taking the shape
of her behaving as she always does before
all she endeavors to injure takes flight.

My mother is a continent
at the bottom of the earth. No one
can live near her. Men freeze for less.
Daughters are lain into coffins
at best. Marker of the planet’s
magnetic field, farthest pole,
planted with flags, my mother lags
and withers with the mystery
of the gods; she knows hard weather,
the cruel slow death, the long endeavor,
the journey for country or for self
across a vacant series of fields, across
the frostbite-wielding bluffs.
Softnesses erased. My mother is
in Antarctica: I can feel myself grow
older than the ice there at her feet.
I can feel myself flee yet again her
harsh climate. Dog at her sled, scarf
at her mouth, flake in her hair: my
inevitable melt. With an impermeable
seal closed over, of water at a temperature
where it must congeal. My mother
touching the explorer’s ice pick bones
and stumbling on the corpses of men
and finding the preserved remains.
An ice river with the transparent blue
of frozen-over gone wrong. It will
be this way as tectonic plates scrape
at one another. It will be this way when
she sheds her layers and steps from
the ice and sails the long miles, away
from hardship, but not toward home.
 

 
Dear Hiss:
 
your fingerprint sits at my hush. Lifted,
lost. A rawness lush. You are the way
seeds nest inside fruit or carry in the
belly of the bird. You are the pen across
the page. You are the hinge on a horse stall
opening wide or a window opened
after midnight by a thief.
 
Dear hiss:
 
conceive. You not of the tongue or the lips.
You of the palate or teeth. Slither along like
a snake or the waves’ backhanded retreat.
You of the air escape. You of the rain in the
leaves. Disapproval. Whisper. Lisp. A currency
of exhalation or balloon mouth or tire leak.

Once my mother hissed at me to get me
to stop. Again and again. I was saying
the wrong thing. I was using the wrong fork.
My name loaded with a helium tank’s
pressure and set out to set me straight.
 
Dear hiss:
 
Too many flies on a corpse. Glaze
on a vase, crazed as ceiling plaster,
mirror of my most dissatisfied self,
quieter than a yelp, louder than a groan or
snuff, you are christening me in your bitter
waters. I eat of your flesh. It is
nourishment enough.
 
Dear hiss:
 
you are one-tenth outstretched, one-tenth
slept, one-tenth woken up. You are balanced
on a wire or balanced on a plank. You walk
forward like one condemned to death. The
noose around your neck. The platform
dropped from beneath your feet. The snap
at the end of your life.

Once my mother slapped at me, cornered me
by the stove, fueled the pilot light lit. In a fit
of anger backed me up, did not believe I was
sick. My name a blue flame through her burner
lips. My name a source of the burn.

Dear hiss:
 
You make me wait for what’s to follow.
I swallow all I meant to say. I hold my
breath. Is a rattlesnake near. Is a bomb
falling through the air. Is a thread passing
through the eye of a needle. Is the bread
that was to rise falling flat. Is there a
trickle of water rivering down through
the compromised roof.
 
Dear hiss:
 
Vertebrae of air counted one by one, column
on which to raise a bank, spine with which
to stand and walk, you sound an alarm
that is more molecule than light, you
strip a blossom of its petals;
its stamens bend, its branches rise:

sound like a forest growing from seeds
sound like lightning melding sand to glass
sound like a lasso settling around the neck
sound like nevertheless