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Jennifer Givhan

The Demon

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Hands at each bedpost, grasping the head
    of the bed, jerking, ripping hard
the sleeper from sleep. This is not a dream.

Morning noises resume
    from the window, three brave rabbits
offering themselves to a hungry black snake.

A child once begged the truth
    of her mama. That child understood
more than her keep, more than her share

of the household burden, a roof lifting like a lid
    on a boiling pot, a room that means
to hold us in as much as out—

a kitchen for consuming
    or being consumed.     In this room
pure appetite mimics memory, its sinewy shadows—

& the child must grow up.
    She knows her mama's hands
are her own, shaking.

Birthright Disguise

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I dreamt a woman with my mother's
crow-black hair and eyes

was unzipping a feathered demon suit
prickling at the neck

skin beneath the scales or gills
my own beige, plain and scarred—

the woman was me, I know. I could hear
her screaming, but I couldn't tell

how sticky the demon had grown.

When I startled awake as often is the case
each time I'm frighteningly close

to understanding what happened those years
I cannot remember, thrown away

like the girlhood and teenage diaries
I burnt when I got married—a fresh start

I'd said, although now I'm certain
that was a lie…
my daughter in her footy

pajamas stood at the bed's steep edge
watching me sleep. Or was she trying

to wake me—to pull off the dark sleep
suit? I panicked. I jumped. Her eyes

shot owl wide.
The simpler story would end

with me, plucking from the pillows and
my hair, feathers—choking back

mouthfuls of scabs.
Instead, I had to ask her.
I had to. Baby, let me see. Open your mouth.

Night Cropping

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Mama's suffering climbs from bed,
switches on a light and sets the kettle hissing;
against the windowpane the compassed face of moon
arcs, an owl's egg fallen to a thicket

switched on by light inside its kettle, hissing
as she peels back memory through its freckled shell
arced as the owl's egg fallen in her thicket
(from birdlimed branches, a silent copse).

While she peels back memory, a freckled shell
crackles, the way hunters set traps:
birdlime, branches. Her silence copses
guilt, new growth one might hope will green

instead crackles—a hunter setting traps
in her mind, a burrowing owl come to claim her young
guilt, new growth one might fear will green
but crops up brown, disc-faced, howling. I am Mama's daughter

& in my mind, a burrowing owl comes to claim my young
against the windowpane's encompassing moon
but crops up brown, disc-faced, howling I am Mama's daughter &
Mama's suffering, climbing from bed.

The Daughter's Curse

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For ruining your body, the bruised
pear you become each night

beneath sheets
—selfsame animal since girlhood bloomed

thick as shaving cream on your legs, savage
as spilled sugar water on the kitchen tile

between crevices—

teeth meant for lacerating mattress-
beaten thoughts, for other

than this. Say the damn thing.
Let down

like milk like memory from your blood. Curse
me with what you cannot give & keep giving

& I keep taking.

Resfeber (Re-Membering Trauma)

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: The nervous feeling before undertaking a journey; the restless race of a
traveler's heart before the journey begins


Admit your loss. What you are hunting tempers
underground—it's fool's gold

in the mining towns. The subconscious

is a shaft of broken tamarack for the graves
of miners. Be something the cage unlocks, monstrous

horizon. Hunt for X in the flumes

you've named salvation. Imagination is an act
of self-preservation. What tastes blue hot, is tough to catch

& impossible to open? Struggle. Try saving

anything save yourself. You were a child once. You read
Bradbury in the sluicing heat & the trumpet flowers

regaling the open fields. The subconscious is a dog.


Hello, I am lost. Which way to escape this heat, this
plunging? I clipped the ladder below

sea level, foam-green & barnacled. Lost

hot deflowering light. Or cave-
dwelling calypso, hello! I am the open-

hearted end of a fool. The hunting dogs have lost

their trail. They're roiling in flowerbeds
& muddying your best hopes.

What's lost to your earth? They've buried.

Traveling with Leonora Carrington

Mexican surrealist, 1917-2011

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I'm going insane, Leonora.
Do you believe that I was with you
when you flashed the priest? I helped
lift your skirt above your head.
I was the space between your bellybutton
and your thighs, the salmon pink
shock of girlflesh crossing
past with present confessionals.

Because art is a portal
from this misplaced time of marigolds
draping the altars of our skins, the veil
thinnest between us and our hallucinatory
dead, we must own our souls
or let our souls own us, but to give
them away would mean certain
asylum, brickworld silence.

If imagination is the passport
to liberation, if you never blamed
me as I blame myself, if you never
guiltpinnned me in a pair of mothwings,
lend me a yellow lifejacket
and let us go then. As a child you opened
Max's book and said I know this. Did you hear
me there, too? Was I thrumming?

Artist, I'm coming to you
through the halflight dreams awake
since we cannot choose each night
what funerals we attend, what treeroots
shoot into the freshly soiled
bodies of our dearest lovely friends,
what stickshards our selves
become, what earthworms we've been.

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