Jennifer Givhan

Leaving Anthony


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 

blade arm 

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 

for rocks. 


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

Read our Writers to Watch interview with Jennifer Givhan.

Posted on September 16, 2015 .