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 www.jenniferperrine.org.