Avoid the man who holds a gun—
Or any blood-instrument.
Work the senses. Ears to hear.
Vision is for seeing buttercups
Bursting gladly behind sharpened teeth.
Venture to reach sweeter blossoms.
Analyze the wind and which way to run.
When a nearby body smells brackish with vinegar and molasses
Be sure you are its quarry.
Fade into pale green grass.
What tracks you, may not yet have found you.
Fold your bony legs to vault the low-hung branches.
When it comes for you, you may still be quicker.
Sonnet for Birth and Death Threats
To start, we bought the bed. Sized for a king
And his queen. Though the crowns never fit us.
Twenty inches deep. Level head to foot with hidden coils.
On it we sprawled. The succulent fruit of our labors
Wetting the sheets. Reckless seeds seeking eggs
To hatch on that magnificent mattress where,
Unfurled from the doorway of me, they came upon us.
We named them and called ourselves parents.
As if babies would make us adults.
Generous as milk and swaddled in motherhood
I lay obedient and waiting on our love-stained cradle
Of mussed sheets and heaped blankets.
Where later, and after the facts, he made lists for me—
Tender or stinging? Which knife or hand?
The Man Who Could
Catch a Fish Twice
You have to teach her to believe the hook, he said,
Bobbing the rig with his hand on the grip.
The flash of the strobe called forth by the sun
As it met with the shimmying hook,
Must have looked precisely like the upturned lens
Of an undersea eye, because just-like-that
He was hauling her up, the tip clean into the cheek
Stuck flesh-globbed through the gill.
The second time, did she return seeking Mercy?
He must have known she did. Watch this, he said and his smile
Was like a slide.
He was a kind man.
When he held her again
He tore the bladed hook from her face
After pulling the one from her throat.
Halibut is the Way I Love
I was born balanced
It was fate made me asymmetrical.
An eye for an eye on either side.
Chameleon bright to blend into light.
Belly down dug into shale floor and shadow.
I am ever on the lookout
Always ready with the defense.
All the better to see with
His roving eye. My migrating eye
Traversing night to day
Makes for all eyes on the sky.
Makes for all eyes on what may drift between us.
Makes it hard to comprehend
I’ll be fooled by it again
When he baits his sharpened hooks
When he casts the weighted line.
My Mother Taught Me
It was each of my handed-down earthenware plates
Every pottery bowl in the pile, that I
Who feared to set my jaw at him
With needles of freeze in my chest
Eyeing his fists and the blade of his eye
Who took from the shelf to drop to the floor
Who lifted the heap while staring him down
It was I, who clasped the assemblage of plates like a bomb
Held them high like a weight that felt as a—
Feather. My porcelain hands clenched rigid as bone
Miniscule muscles of fingers uncurling
A tumultuous mound of slivers and dust
In the kitchen where I stood my ground.
Jenny Downs currently lives in Eureka, California, where she teaches system-involved youth to share the furious spirit of youth in poems. She has unofficially been a poet since her own adolescence and recently got hitched to this notion by earning her MFA in the low-residency program of Oregon State University, Cascades, in June 2020.
Header photo by Alexander Schitschka, courtesy Shutterstock.