Back to Issue Forty-Two




Take, for example, Sor Juana: at seventeen a polymath, no fear of showing off. Opened up for interview, she holds them all at bay — the way a royal galleon… might fend off a few canoes.¹ Sweat pools down her upright back as men circle around her. My hair grew fast, she will later write, my understanding slow.² In ‘First Dream,’ a soul becomes untethered from its spine. Centuries later, Sylvia Plath considers a graduate scholarship: Only a million people want them; no competition really.³ Flannery O’Connor writes to God: I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so.⁴ Plath decides she wants the same, prepares an application. The pragmatist, she secures a psychiatrist’s recommendation — a big strip tease the selection board will all [shove] in to see.⁵ In ‘Fulbright Scholars,’ Hughes recalls her hair for what it hid. Prize, the purse, the pursed lip. How it means: to open by force. The college used to make each woman stand, nude, for the camera —it was said to teach them posture, how to better hold the self.


¹ Paz, Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith, p. 98
² Inés de la Cruz, ‘La Respuesta’
³ Plath, Unabridged Journals, no. 164
⁴ O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, p. 6
⁵ Plath, ‘Lady Lazarus’





It’s late in our season of waiting.
The fig tree on the corner grows

heavy, exquisite. For seven months
I’ve paced the green

circumference of my life. I’m lucky —
there’s a humdrum here. A room

with an unworried view. Today
she calls me with the news: they’re punching

through the walls. And have I heard
two girls I know from school

have been shot in the head? I’m blanking
on the faces, picture apples (cored)

instead, she tells me one of them was pregnant
with the killer’s child. Meanwhile

the latest candidate, what votes will count
or not — Forgive me this

my everyday. All that I
left, forgot. Outside,

the orange god of sun
is taking off his rings.

In school, we learned the fleeing girl
transforms into a tree. Then we learned

the core of every living tree is dead: heartwood,
the hardest wood, which every year surrounds,

as cells surround a neural stem
to form the fetal spine.


Michaela Coplen is an American poet and writer living in London. She was a 2013 US National Student Poet; she won the 2019 Troubadour International Poetry Prize and the 2020 York Poetry Prize. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The London Magazine, and The Rialto, and is included in the 2020 Best New Poets anthology. Her debut chapbook, Finishing School, was published in 2022 by Oxford Brookes University’s ignitionpress. Her website is:

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