Five Poems - Olena Jennings

Olena Jennings


the knife to cut the beet 
from the garden the red 
dye against my skin 
the shiny metal blade 
your job is to wash 
the knife your job 
is to prevent me 
from coming close 
to the sharpness 

we took on certain roles 
in the house 
you cut the meat 
while I cut the vegetables 
the stains were varied 
yours a thin scarlet 
and mine bleeding green 
I later pulled a needle 
through cloth 

repeating colors 
with thread 
we hung the embroideries 
on the walls 
the colors fixed 
we sat on the couch 
as the colors watched 
us move one of our hands 
on top of the other’s 

your hand was usually on top 
we played 
our roles 
you walked through our hallways 
the loudest 
I resented your footsteps 
while I walked 
on my tiptoes 
towards the front door 

in the thicket 
outside the house 
you had the idea 
to chop wood with the knife 
so that it would become 
so that we wouldn’t 
be tempted 
to place it against skin

then to reveal our scars 
holding subway poles 
the inside of our arms visible 
showing off 
the knife’s traces 
red the knife 
in your jean pocket 
an unforgettable 



The cattails in Humboldt Park almost sway, 
but they are too heavy in their longing. 
I am wearing her cut-offs 
and the angora sweater from the rummage. 
She taught me to shave my legs. 
I could only live 
by her definition of beauty. 

She lives by matching accessories 
purchased at Claire’s Boutique, 
clear skin, 
a C cup, 
plucked eyebrows. 
We’re nothing 

The pond is too shallow for suicide. 
I would often go alone, but sometimes 
with her to watch the way her fingers 
stroked the top of the cattail. 
She would come close 
to pulling it out 
from its green stalk. 

Close to the edge 
of the park 
we could hear tiny 
voices from the swing sets. 
The pond was near 
a busy street 
where not everyone avoided 

the ducks who had left 
their element and we cried. 
Maybe we were sad 
because it was like our own 
would have been: 
a sudden end to love.



sparks our imaginations. 
Our thoughts rise 
like we wanted our loved ones 
to rise from the grave. 
We are their children who walk barefoot, 
leaving footprints in the brush. 
Our hearts are their balloons. 
They hold on by the strings 
of arteries. 

Coffee in the cemetery. 
They would have wanted some, 
with an extra dollop 
of milk like coffee that we drank 
in the church hall 
from Styrofoam cups 
when we still prayed 
and saving the environment 
meant turning off the light 
when we left a room. 

We drank coffee. The yellow 
tablecloth was a pond 
between us. My feet 
were wet in our conversation. 
She bought me gold jewelry, not realizing 
that I would have preferred costume 
even when I moved my hair 
away to show off florescent pink earrings. 
She didn’t know we were different. 
But she was the one to drift away.



a cool piece of silk 
the soft protein 
dropped in dissolved 
alum a bridge 
the yellow weld, the pink madder 
the bright osage orange, the purple lac 
the insect constructs 
its house and it dissolves into color 
influenced by acid, alkaline, copper, or iron 

the reaction in the beaker 
fizzes towards her 
she has wanted to experience 
this connection in her own life 
to see her desire 
bubble up above her skin 
to look in the mirror 
and see herself changed 
color in her cheeks 

swatches of silk 
for her daughter’s high school science fair 
the dyes were collected from the house 
coffee grounds 
rose petals 
their scents in the hot water 
made her head spin 
as her daughter waited for results 

she pulled on her rubber gloves 
to manipulate nature 
the dye rinsed off like blood in water 
when she cut her finger 
chopping eggplant for your birthday 
her hair all twisted up 
and you open the box 
with the silk scarf 
lying quietly in color



I am sick and I cut the parts that hurt larger. 
The heart throbs. The room is getting stuffy, 
but mother is afraid of opening the window. 
The paper dolls float like snowflakes. 
Weather finds its way inside. 
She watches me with the glistening blades 
of the scissors. The down has traveled 
to the bottom of the comforter. 
It isn’t warm anymore. My pills 
are lined up on the nightstand, full moons. 
I cut dresses and two-piece suits, fold them 
over the bodies of the dolls. In the mirror 
I see my mother’s face behind me. 
She is ready with the cold compress, 
ready with the thermometer. I am ready 
with my fever. 


Olena Jennings

Olena Jennings completed her MFA at Columbia University and her MA at the University of Alberta. She is the author of the poetry collection "Songs from an Apartment," the chapbook "Memory Project" and her translations from the Ukrainian have been published in Poetry International, Poetry International Web, Chelsea, and the Wolf. Her translation with Oksana Lutsyshyna of Artem Chekh’s Absolute Zero was released in 2020 by Glagoslav and her novel Temporary Shelter is forthcoming in 2021 from Cervena Barva Press. Olena's feature articles and book reviews can be found on KGB Bar Lit, Fanzine, and the Millions. She is also the founder and curator of the Poets of Queens reading series.