February 27, 2017

Jennifer Givhan: “Housing Works”

Jenn purple crabapple (resized)

This week, we are proud to present a new poem by Jennifer Givhan. Givhan is a Mexican-American poet from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize) and Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Series, University of Arkansas Press, forthcoming). Her honors include an NEA Fellowship, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship, The Frost Place Latin@ Scholarship, The 2015 Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, and The Pinch Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best of the Net 2015, Best New Poets 2013, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, and The Kenyon Review. She is Poetry Editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal and teaches at The Poetry Barn.
 
Author’s note:

Not only can elegy bring back the lost, it can recall lost versions of ourselves. I mean elegy as any kind of poem evoking the ghosts of the past. I teach a workshop on Hauntedness in poetry, that state of being inhabited by something else—that troubles, darkens, agitates. But the ghost’s presence is transformative, reminds us something must still be done. The selves we’ve shed never go away. The girl I was with Danny resides inside me still. Sometimes I find her lurking in thrift shops.

This poem was inspired by Diane Seuss’s “I can’t stop thinking of that New York skirt, turquoise sequins glued onto sea-colored cotton,” from her Four-Legged Girl, a book I love for how memory bleeds. In this poem, I had to run back into the Housing Works in San Diego, California to recover those thrown-away items I realized I couldn’t live without. I mean, I’ve never lived without them—they’ve been ghosting me this whole time.

 

Housing Works

 

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 his drug friends were letting
us crash, we slept in a cupboard, the length of his 6’4

 

body rope-coiled, folded like those robots into boxes
like cardboard homes 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 restaurant 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.

 

About leanna

Leanna Petronella is a creative writing doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri.

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