It wasn’t the sex or the santo candles his mother
still lit in his bedroom like she’d done
all the nights he’d been gone, the habit
unbroken though he’d come home.
For Mexican Art History, I sat behind him
at the college comunidad where he’d enrolled
a month after getting out of prison
for a murder he didn’t commit—still
Moonlight Sonata reminds me of his bedroom
at his sister’s or after he moved
to the house in the backyard with his parents
because his sister didn’t approve of me
nineteen years old to his thirty-three.
It was your voice, heina, he’d tell me. The question
was to define fetish, and I knew
it meant obsession
or the small clay figurines of women
round and full of life, their breasts and hips
large as their heads. And your
mind. The men were depicted as soldiers.
He’d stretch out his arms to call me
his queen, or to say this was the width of
his cell for over a decade. He came out
with the bible and knowledge of his ancestral
claim. Corazon, he’d tell me, this land
is ours. Like my uncle the Ph.D.
You don’ t understand, do you? We had
nothing. We had nopales in his mother’s
frying pan. I never asked him
what else happened there. Before his primo
admitted he’d pulled the trigger. Not
even before his daughter was sick
or the ex-wife or the gang. I was his
second chance, his college girl,
his classical music and magical
real. I got in my car and drove home.
Self-Defense or What I Wish Mama Had Taught Me
for My Daughter
Your body can unzip
like a boned bodice.
Your body is a knife—
both slicing point
& handle. Your body is the diamond
but the bleeding is not yours.
On the ground at your feet
your body is becoming rocks.
Heat-baked by centuries into basalt,
canyons of you, black-mouthed & sharp-edged.
Lift the largest rock
of yourself and throw
with all the rocks in your gut.
Ghost the mother of your gut—she birthed you
In the ghost story, a woman goes to hell
for a man who’d unravel her.
Use the hell
of your body,
unravel for no one but yourself.
Jennifer Givhan's full-length poetry collection Landscape with Headless Mama won the 2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize and is forthcoming in 2016. She's earned an NEA fellow in poetry, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship, the inaugural Latin@ Scholarship to The Frost Place, The Pinch Journal Poetry Prize, and the DASH Literary Journal Poetry Prize. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and her poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2013, AGNI, Southern Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Rattle, The Collagist, and The Columbia Poetry Review. She's also an assistant editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and teaches composition and poetry at Western New Mexico University and The Rooster Moans Poetry Coop.