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The Visceral Poetry of Jennifer Givhan

Thinking of submitting to our Blue Lights Book Prize this year? Hunting for inspiration or wondering what we’re looking for? Check out three poems by our 2017 Poetry winner, Jennifer Givhan. Givhan’s book Girl With Death Mask can be purchased here.

Submissions for the 2018 Blue Lights Book Prize in Poetry are open until Oct. 31.


Mexican Wedding Cookies

We could road trip to Tennessee from New Mexico

the kids & I        we could be brave        they think I’m brave


we could unroll our bags & throw our chanclas in the grass

we could barefoot it        we could unlearn the constellations


& learn them again        unhitch their stories from their names

like the names I’ve taken into my belly & rolled        dough


like masa        to my mouth        through my cervix        I’ve

unbound them        I’ve squatted toward


cement        toward asphalt        & thick summer air

squelching in my lungs        not enough for the work        not enough


we could love something ridiculous        we could mix pecans

& flour & sugar into balls in our hands then scoop them


onto sheets in the oven        sprinkle them in powder

white as that dress I swore I needed        we could unbind ourselves


from kitchens        from messes        from our mama’s ideas of what

we need        for happiness        for luck        for sweetness on our tongues


we could do it        I’ve heard a recipe for letting go tastes

eerily similar to holding on        the difference in the butter


or the temperature        or the salt in the batter        but we know

I’m lying        all the things we could & why Tennessee—



What’s Been Given Me Secondhand

He bought me a cherry-red dress   no a black dress

with cherries   stemmed & shining    as if bubbling atop

grenadine & syrup    with the insurance money he got


for his mama’s dying     I’d run out of clothes in that

beachfront apartment where his drug friends were letting

us crash    we slept in a cupboard    the length of his 6’4


rope-coiled body folded like a robot into a box

a cardboard home for what almost became of me

for loving him too long    for loving him at all


Why I always remember him in thrift shops    busted

lamps & scraggly rugs piled against walls    knockoffs

paraphernalia of longer legs    longer days    & how often


I miss that messed up man     He bought a wedding

band     He lost it in the ocean     I never asked him

for anything but a razor    I hadn’t shaved in weeks


a bottle of shampoo     I’d never tasted oysters & he said

let them slide down your throat    the ones we found

in Styrofoam outside the pier eatery but


he wouldn’t let me near tinfoil again    that white dust made

him so mad coming down & every time I bled he

understood what I was missing     The motherless


recognize the childless     He said we’d buried something

in the sand     Not a castle or a shovel or a bundle of cells

that wouldn’t stick that wouldn’t grow    nothing


so routine     Once in a while in a Goodwill between faux

fur & broken music boxes I find him hiding    I’m

high enough to believe it    his windup   his living again



Refugio State

Searing into beach as if demented    a woman stakes a tent

Does anyone feed the birds    does anyone sleep on dirt

A body can survive beneath a pier    sea life attaching itself

to the underbelly    I am pillared by bilge water    a host

of barely visible creatures    I’ve forgotten how to swim

Campsite swabbed of ashes    trash    a marbled tin pot

of coffee my mother would let me sip    grounds    A woman

not her    no longer anyone I know    unrolls a bag

for lying in like a crab atop the sand    Did I really fall

asleep here once    fat with my daughtered belly

& scorching    It’s been a long time    It’s been too long

I’ve misunderstood    I’ve lost something   Geiger me

No one could survive this scabby plankton    this unkempt

I slept an ocean of ache    & woke    & fed the birds that settled