Five Poems

By Olena Jennings

 

KNIFE

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
dull
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
          shape

 

THE POND OF HER

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
alike. 

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
suicides
would have been:
a sudden end to love.

 

CEMETERY COFFEE

Caffeine
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.

 

COLOR

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
turmeric
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

 

PAPER DOLLS 

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 is the author of Songs from an Apartment and Memory Project.  Her translation from Ukrainian of Iryna Shuvalova’s poetry collection, Pray to the Empty Wells, in collaboration with the author, was released in 2019 by Lost Horse Press. Her translation with Oksana Lushyshyna of Artem Chekh’s Absolute Zero is forthcoming from Glagoslav. She is the founder and curator of the Poets of Queens reading series.