Two Poems

Poetry / Jennifer Perrine

:: Humility | Pride ::

In the dark before dawn, in the drawn-out
heart of August—month made to impress
my skin with its lack of restraint, no shame

in its salt-sweet sweat, its scrub of chiggers—
I lay in the cleared field, arms lifted, hands
pressed against the sky to catch the shower

of stars that were not stars, but lofty rocks
spun from space, incandescent with friction,
that swept me with streaks of light, glitter

strewn on my body’s parade, holiday
celebrating this first moment I knew
the worth of witness, the use of my shy,

watchful self, who loved being low, treasured
how I, too, was a small speck sent whirling
in surrender, a mote of brilliant dust.

:: Envy | Kindness ::

My hand pressed to her stretched skin,
her full belly turns a key

without a room, climbs ivy
through my empty insides, vines

that twine this trellis of need.
I lower my eyes, green seed

germinating in my veins,
blood pumping with little knives,

the thousand cuts of this Ides
made of each mother I’ve seen,

from paintings of gravid Eve
to my own mom, with seven

kids, to this dear friend who sends
me sonograms. I deny

to her the screech of this vise
winding tight at her joy, sink

my keen howls in an inky
deep. For her I unspool skeins,

knit blankets, stay by her side
at doctor’s visits, devise

a surprise shower. Still I
can’t stifle this yen. I kiss

it, cradle it, hush its din,
cries that echo in the den

where nothing grows, nothing dies.


From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ve always been perplexed by ways of naming our experiences through oppositional language. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of standardized tests that asked me to identify my race and demanded, in dire bold lettering, that I Choose Only One. If my parents claimed different racial identities, was I white or was I a person of color?

Later, I’d come to recognize the same limitations when asked to state my gender, my sexuality, my socioeconomic class. Where were the both/and options? The places of neither/nor? Where were the words that spoke to how I understood self and world—as fluid, dynamic spaces where sudden shifts might occur, where boundaries are at best murky, at worst outright lies?


For several years, I’ve been writing poems exploring concepts of sin and virtue—a little patience here, a little wrath there. Last summer, it occurred to me that, like so many other supposedly discrete categories, sin and virtue slip easily into one another. Any experience I can remember or imagine that might speak of sin can easily mutate into one that also embodies virtue, and vice versa.

Poetry—reading it, writing it—always brings me back to truths that, in the desire to be like or to be liked, are often easier to forget. Poetry reminds me to attend to the world, and when I do, I remember: Nothing stays in a stable state.


Jennifer Perrine is the author of The Body Is No Machine (New Issues, 2007), winner of the 2008 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry, and In the Human Zoo (University of Utah Press, 2011), recipient of the 2010 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. Perrine teaches in the English department and directs the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, visit her online at