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