Autumn Sky Poetry . . . Number 18 . . .


     by Jennifer Givhan

          “the bone-frame was made for

                        no such shock…

                        yet the skeleton stood up to it.” — H.D., from The Walls Do Not Fall

I don’t care what they say.

Pain is not, will never be, the mother of beauty:

At nineteen, I stood at the edge of a dining room

chair, a press-iron’s electrical cord wrapped around

my neck, the iron dripping water as it dangled from a

steel black chin-up bar wedged in my younger

brother’s bedroom doorway.

I think of all the women in motel beds, wrapped

in their own cords—there is

no sleep in rat’s alley


not knowing how they’ll feed their children,

pay the light bill.

Squatters in urine-filled bathtubs,

would-be opera singers,

lecturers, jasmine-scented daughters.

I have known them. I have stood with them.

               Arrested developments. Some stolen,

some squeezed.

My never-born with umbilical cord

coiled around her neck—tubed mother-blood turned



               Pain is ugly, brick-colored

                              and urgent. Mother of nothing.

I think of all the women without voices—

choked, jug jug birds,

silt and semen crusted in their throats.

               There is no peep in rat’s alley, carotid’s

slit in rat’s alley.

We have songs to sing that have

nothing to do with violence:

               Our nightsongs are not all sewn from silent

                              weaves, brutal patches.

Some traumas we inflict on ourselves, true; still

others are crushed down upon us.

But these are not the sites of art—wastelands

of babies left in garbage cans.

These are the places of grievous splitting—

               fabric frayed by sex that is not sex,

by hurt that is not love,

death that is not beauty, bones

that are not lovely.

At twenty-three I stepped down from the chair

and wept for the loss that was never mine

to mourn—

beauty gifted by open palms,

               love—the mother of healing. 


Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American poet who grew up in the Imperial Valley, a small border community in the Southern California desert. She earned her M.A. in English Literature at California State University Fullerton, where she was the recipient of the Graduate Equity Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Verdad, Dash, Caesura, Mom Writer's Literary Magazine, Third Wednesday, Cutthroat, Pinyon, Earth's Daughters, Rockhurst Review, Palabra, Prick of the Spindle, and Mothering Magazine, and she was the 2010 recipient of the Emerging Voices Fellowship in Poetry through PEN Center USA.


© 2010 Jennifer Givhan