Author: Jennifer Givhan

I never held paradise.

Weaved under a shroud
I had no chance

to speckle the blackest night.

What luminous rifts
if darkness never fell?

An oak without limbs
can’t reach for sky.

the acorn will never know its worth,

might forget it’s an acorn at all
and not a rock,
a knob in a leathered tree.

I am not some piece of bone.

I stopped pressing my ear
toward empty sky.

I split open.

Formed branches.
Found the fruit I’d borne myself.
Bit into myself.

Chewed each bite slowly.

Visit Jennifer Givhan online at


Gutted by flames, pyres
for houses mock our dark nights with burning
beds. Open the night. Let out the sky.

Fallen earth: we find no stale delight
without hours of darkness.
How hollow, how heavy to fall.
We plunge magnificently. God’s forsaken.
Lead us not into temptation.

A busy throng of voiceless echoes:
we are alone, afraid. We’ve misplaced
our God. No angels here to comfort us
when herds of icewinds shard
our breasts, the fires within our
empty chests extinguishing earth’s stolen

calm. Hourglass of water’s ravishing storm,
our boat had holes before we ever
set sail; there was never a sunset meant
for us trees. While our dust despairs,
our son came down to earth
and failed us. Beating the heart,
heart beating for us. Breathe.

Awake, awake the nightjar’s passed.
Mired in floodwater, we crab-claw
rooftops, makeshift rafts.
Dawn approaches. We cannot know,
will daylight dry our skins or scorn
our burns? Swords of plank stab our sin
and prick us in eerie directions.
The brine we drink to save our lives,
we thirst for more—that toxic gumbo.

Hummingbirds in our ears hum secret songs
we hadn’t remembered we knew. How blue
it’d be, falling back into oblivion
where battalions of charred angels hurricane
against the quiet rain.

Visit Jennifer Givhan online at

I am a woman.
There is a man inside of me.
I want him out.

My cells, too long divided
into cubbyholes. In storage
unit “one” slumps a woman

knitting herself into a body,
a blanket. She’s the needle,
not the hand that knits.

In storage unit “two,” a man.
He holds a megaphone, shouts next door:
I am the hands! I am the voice!

Then, furtively, so no one will see, he applies
a thick coat of mascara and masquerades
in hysterical lingerie.

I am a woman, I say it again.
There is a man inside of me.
I feel him squirming, all hard

and skeleton
when I shake my hips,
and I shake them often.

Perhaps that man was me.
I looked into the mirror, cold
and linear, saw myself

with a mustache,
all bushy-tailed like Frida,
and all at once I had to escape.

I wanted babies,
babies and more babies,
a great big family of babies.

But then, the man took over.
My breasts fell off. My chest
concaved. My face grew furry.

My hair cut itself short.
I watched it plunge in clumps
down the lion-legged bathtub.

Without hair,
without makeup,
without ovaries,

I wondered, am I still
a woman? Convergent? Imagination,
my connective tissue?

And my words, my
woman words, oozing
with female contingencies,

leaky, compulsive,
murky and tangled,
charging back.

Even with fallopian tubes clogged
like drain pipes stuffed with hair,
even with the stain

of floodwater, the silt
of years, my voice is still
unbridled, my body worth

salvage. My words bear power, bear
fruit, bare spaces
where no hysterectomy

can split my woman kind, nor
wreck my hothouse, hotbed
blazing woman mind.

Visit Jennifer Givhan online at