Back to Issue Thirteen.




            “Rep. Joe Wilson shocked many observers Wednesday night when he shouted, ‘You lie!’ after the president denied that health care legislation would provide free coverage for illegal immigrants.”
                                                                                                                                    –, 2009

And so what if I didn’t die. Blood
for no reason I thought it was cancer

in the toilet bowl. I was nineteen,
if that’s what you’re thinking,

and had experience saying goodbye
to someone whose body couldn’t hear me.

I kept my head until we reached the pool
and segued into a story about my birthplace

and how my nails were all turtles swimming
back to land. What I was trying to say

was that my aunt was an American citizen
who lived as long as she did because

she always took down the Christmas tree.
The water we put our feet into

was the neighborhood’s crater
and I’m sure those going to bed heard me

because I said I wasn’t one
to cry, and so he should listen.

Every ornament was an ovary she boxed,
but what I had to say had nothing to do

with dying. She wasn’t my aunt
by blood, after all, and my medical history

was an unidentified coastline. I said I am
in trouble. If there was ever something

wrong in me, I couldn’t see anyone,
just to check. Do you understand?

He understood as much as you
and who was to blame.



The Part of the Water



When the water levels were low I drove
to the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake

thinking again about having lost the spelling bee
on the word rustle, spelling instead, and slowly,

wrestle into the microphone’s foam.
One folding metal seat left occupied behind me,

the crowd waiting—what had I imagined I heard
in the trees? With my grief counselor I talk about hallucinating,

as a child, a double on the dashboard and my double
would say, “Don’t you say a word,”

though I’d already be looking past myself
and at the horizon of taillights reddening.

It is possible to have been this way even then.
Even then it is possible something split in me

the first time I lied myself a citizen.
At the tilt of a head, was I the young woman

or the old, the duck or the rabbit in the optical
illusion? After the accident I turned out

all of the lights in the room while I watched,
concussed, from the mirror. I edged like a fever

with nothing on the tip of my tongue. I imagine
from a distance the glare off the water desiccated me.

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Best American Experimental Writing 2015, The Kenyon Review Online, Hyphen, The Journal, Drunken Boat, Best New Poets 2009, Zócalo Public Square, and elsewhere. Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera (HGOco) stage include From My Mother’s Mother and On This Muddy Water. She holds an MFA from New York University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. Janine is an Assistant Professor of English at Weber State University. Learn more at

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