This April we welcome back TC contributor JESSICA LANAY for a single-author Poetry Month feature.
“A Brief History of Shrinking”
We dampened the cool white sheets
throwing each other, knowing
we are both liars; we didn’t get
what we wanted: me—a chest
to shelter me for the night; you—
some reassurance that you had any
power at all in the world.
We awoke and love abandoned
us on an island together.
We did not know what to do
with each other, we barely
knew each other’s names;
smelling storm, we huddled like swallows,
making nests of each other’s ribs.
I hear the difference your tongue muting some words
a bird with a chipped beak the song lacking a note an absence I say I know it
hurts I am sorry I am sorry these are the physics of cruelty
expecting brutality for small or no mistakes
the physics of being the lake that catches the rain the dashed
the physics of being the only thing another a person has I make room for you to collapse into me sink your mouth broken canoe our hair
coarse seaweed remaining teeth to points false wings to gills
a lamentation a pile of dry palmettos burning crackling
for all the things I can’t correct your body is an altar crumbling
no matter how much I speak of love we are each the future
of women suspected of killing their men women who marched out of swamps
with children who only bore traces of their mothers you remind me
of this lineage when I confess that my own lover waits until
I am not looking
A Brief History of Shrinking
In the history of Dido, she killed herself on a pyre for whom she did not want to marry—not
because Aeneas left her. He is not even real. She might have lived one hundred years before
Virgil invented him. But a conquest is not complete without a woman who kills herself for a love
that is only an illusion.
You will never be married or God bless the man who chooses you. Those words, peppered over
my head by my aunts and mother, when as a child in a red jumper and canvas shoes I cursed my
father. I have the right to curse him, he is a cursable man.
That is the extravagance of blood: the hardness of his grandfather, and blank unkindness of
his father passing through him into his small daughter. The truest inheritances are these
Virgil made Dido a composite of what he considered empire-wrecking women. In order to
write a history of valiant men, he drew Dido as Cleopatra, as Calypso: abandoned, forgotten,
and/or dead—erased from any stele.
My mother is the only woman in my family that left her husband and stayed gone. But not before
I learned the violence of watching her be unloved for no reason at all.
The other women in my family died in their late sixties. Their men, who they locked their jaws
around, continued their unconditional devotion to doing whatever they pleased into their nineties,
despite that being what killed their women.
When the men are buried, they are piled into the columbarium with the women’s bodies that—
even in decomposition—shrink to leave just enough room to be climbed on top of.
I am foraging within your pleats, picking at your bruisable flowers for sustenance. I am a
poor stranger in this field where you cut sharply upward from flatness. You are a wrinkle in the
land I cannot see past or across.
But, let me stop here. You never wanted to be a mountain—you never asked for that. Let me be
I will begin again by saying that today I read somewhere that when a person loses something that
it was their intention, consciously or unconsciously, to be rid of it. In my mind the former is
equal to a haunting and the latter is equal to a haunting.
I am not a receipt in your pocket that you have convinced yourself you will eventually need and
Then there is this mountain against which I am so small that there is no difference in size
between me and a sprig of grass.
The landscape changes so quickly with you by my side; suddenly things are two dimensional and
I feel as if I am sliding down a verticality.
Maybe we meant for each other to be like hats taken by the wind, dervishing away, loping.
Sweat rings about the brims.
And now, I am in a tiny boat in the middle of a mirror that is sometimes called the ocean. Have
you ever been in a boat on a clear black night? It is nothing like being in a star shower.
But from this boat I look behind to see your lantern swinging along the shore, a direction.
But by now, dear Mountain, I am so tired, that I think I will just rest here and look towards
nothing, my back to your light.
I will draw my own forest and I will walk into it.
Like a hand shaking pieces of bone, I will rattle and vibrate,
then dissolve into the sky.
I want to paint a red mountain, draw the treeline, and go stand
pale and fleshy as a Sycamore in the middle there,
with my arms above my head, and you will say,
Ah—there is a petrified tree.
But this is my forest. I have drawn it
and there is no way in, but through
this vanishing point,
which I am now
Jessica Lanay is a poet, librettist, art critic, literary artist, and short fiction writer whose body of work focuses on how manifesting interiority and emotion interacts with form, almost at the cost of nihilism. She holds her Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Agnes Scott College, her Master of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Caribbean Studies, and her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. Her interests are experimental Black Atlantic literatures and arts. She is currently working on her manuscript amphibian; completing the libretto for the opera Virgula Divina, composed by Karen Brown, that is due to be produced for the 2020 Opera Now Festival and the 2020 Pittsburgh Festival Opera program Fight for Your Right; a new opera project to be composed by Karen Brown tentatively titled Locusta; and researching for a new project based on her hometown of Key West, Florida. She has short fiction published in Duende, Tahoma Literary Review, Black Candies: A Journal of Literary Horror, Linden Avenue Journal, Five Quarterly, and TAYO Literary Journal. She has poetry published in a number of literary journals, including Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Acentos Review, Fugue, A Bad Penny Review, The Normal School, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. She has a personal essay published in Salt Hill Journal. Her art writing and criticism can be found in BOMB Magazine. In 2017 she was awarded the Advancing Black Artists in Pittsburgh Grant for an oral history project based in Key West, Florida and the Hill District neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2018 she received a residency at the Millay Colony and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Normal School for her poem “Milk. Milk. Milk.” She has work forthcoming in PANK.