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About this poet

Jennifer Givhan grew up in Southern California’s Imperial Valley. She received an MFA from Warren Wilson College and an MA in English literature from California State University–Fullerton. She is the author of Protection Spell (University of Arkansas Press, 2017), selected by Billy Collins for inclusion in the Miller Williams Series, and Landscape with Headless Mama (Louisiana State University Press, 2016), winner of the 2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize. Givhan has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship. She currently serves as the poetry editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Self-Defense or What I Wish Mama Had Taught Me

              for My Daughter
 

Your body can unzip 

like a boned bodice. 
 

Your body is a knife— 

both slicing point 
 

& handle.  Your body is the diamond 
 

blade arm 

but the bleeding is not yours.  
 

On the ground at your feet 

your body is becoming rocks.  
 

Heat-baked by centuries into basalt,

canyons of you, black-mouthed & sharp-edged. 
 

Lift the largest rock 

of yourself and throw 
 

with all the rocks in your gut.


Ghost the mother of your gut—she birthed you 

for rocks. 


In the ghost story, a woman goes to hell 

for a man who’d unravel her. 


Use the hell

of your body, 


unravel for no one but yourself. 

Originally published in Origins. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Givhan. Used with the permission of the author.

Originally published in Origins. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Givhan. Used with the permission of the author.

Jennifer Givhan

Jennifer Givhan

Jennifer Givhan is the author of Protection Spell (University of Arkansas Press, 2017). She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

by this poet

poem

First war       She polishes the spine of her own
flesh       Tethered nerve      strangling cord       She

burial mounds       She rituals       She
corn stalks in rustling fields       Nothing tribe

nothing sex       Rock for riverbed       Notched
with flint       Second war       She

poem

that failed to make a strong bond with its mother
& was shipped from a Florida zoo to New Mexico’s

(they’d struck a deal with the dairy farm for that baby
would drink thousands of gallons of cow’s milk)

that calf in the corner who doesn’t know I’m watching her

poem

When I was eleven, Mama sang karaoke
at the asylum. For family night, she’d chosen

Billie Holiday, & while she sang, my brother, a
fretted possum, clung

to me near the punch bowl. I remember her
then, already coffin-legged—

mustard grease on her plain dress,
the cattails of