Back to Issue Twenty-Seven.

[poem about Naomi; unsent]


If I could keep her company in the blue bed.

If I could join the assembled birds arrowed towards the greening park.


If I could desire a bowerbird instead of her, I could feel migration as instinct and follow

If I could desire a bowerbird instead of her, I could feel desire as instinct and follow it.


If I didn’t know her black brows move when she sleeps as if remembering and forgetting
an idea.

If I didn’t know she sleeps unclothed, even in winter when the birds are gone.


If she said read to me, I would say how.

If she said please, I would say each female bowerbird mates only once.



July 16, 2016


In school, the rabbi offered me the word spirit when I asked should I already hate my
body this much?

Spirit is a woman who cannot leave a woman.

Spirit has weights in her feet that keep her in her body.

(Later the rabbi said you’ve asked enough questions for today.)

Naomi, I write to you at thirty. I carry around this muscular bag.

Shouldn’t each spirit eventually accept her body?

I used to grab my inner thighs between my hands and clamp down until the spirit

I would study my purpling skin while I filled my mouth with gravel.

Today I imagine spirit like a woman asleep in a pile of bones.

I imagine love like gnawing.

I wanted a body equally like and unlike my own and never found her.

Do I wear my grief more like a suit or a skirt?

My hands shake at the buttons. They struggle with the wire hook-and-eye.

When I was a child, the doctor called my hands dainty.

He told my mother I had piano fingers. Ones that could span an octave, or cover an
entire face in its grip, palm to mouth.

If nobody has died, why do I grieve?

How do I dress the body I will not meet? How do I dress the body I cannot love?

We Jews adorn even the mirror when we mourn.

Our bodies become unfathomable.

The men and the women wear black for a week, keen from the waist in the widow’s
living room.

Every body looks the same for seven nights.

When I close my eyes at night, my hands grow to the size of your back.

I open my fingers in the silent room, fill the warming space between your shoulder

When I close my eyes, Naomi, your body remains covered in light.

Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the 2014 Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry and finalist for a National Jewish Book Award, and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields. Recent poems of hers have appeared in Crazyhorse, Colorado ReviewBlack Warrior Review, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at Poetry Daily. Since 2016, Mennies serves as the series editor of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry at Texas Tech University Press. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches at Loyola University Chicago, and is a member of AGNI’s editorial staff.


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