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Deer in a field at sunset

Five Poems by Jenny Downs

Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Poetry Semifinalist

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Meadow Advisory

Be wary of engines running.

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 DownsJenny 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.

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