Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Poetry Semifinalist
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 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.