Gabriella Fee’s poetry appears in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, Guesthouse, Sprung Formal, Levee Magazine, LETTERS, The American Literary Review (2019 Prize for Poetry), and elsewhere. Their co-translation of Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto’s “Dolore Minimo” won the 2021 Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize, and is under contract with Saturnalia Books. Excerpts appear in The Journal of Italian Translation, The Offing, Copper Nickel, Smartish Pace, Alchemy, and Italian Trans Geographies. Fee holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where they received the Elizabeth K. Moser Fund for Poetry Studies Fellowship in 2021 and the Dr. Benjamin J. Sankey Fellowship in Poetry in 2022. They’ll spend next year as a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Institute for the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.
When April comes I lie down in the shower.
A root in drought drowning in one hard rain,
I bathe my every vein in Jameson.
Death springs from me like a hothouse flower.
My mother swaddles me in terrycloth
and vigils me for three days in her bed.
Pillbox. Rice and lentils. Kettle. Psalm.
She dims the lights as though I were a moth.
She combs my hair. Why do I have to live? My mother answers just the way she did
when I was five and wouldn’t brush my teeth.
You’ll do it because that’s the way it is,
now open wide and let the whole world in.
Three days she holds the dying out of reach.
It has become the first ritual of morning to throw the door open, welcoming the breeze now free of evening’s biting insects, another in a long line of self-justifications: it will arrive whether it’s welcome or not. As will the birds, who know when you breakfast and on what, who are generous with suggestions, whether here, in your dishabille, or at the seasonal cafe, in not much else. There is a three-sided varnished pine box with a plexiglass front, like a bird feeder or diorama or, in traditions less eager to let go or get rid, a coffin, scale being trivial to all species but those least likely to accept it, though the slot on top and slips of paper on display suggest a raffle or ballot, a variation on a theme performed in a tiny theater, and the blanks and golf pencil at the side are, in combination and without need to announce itself with embossed lettering or miniature reply envelope—scale, again—an invitation. At this suggestion, you suggest: The history of our times betrays the stupid arrogance of this and so many other definite articles, symptomatic of these times and others. It might be noticed and echoed and yet go unchallenged on social media, but here it could ignite a sudden change, a contemplative pleasure, and be forgotten all in the span of a few moments, like rain in the green season. It means something to us, this refusal to admit our visceral understanding of the unity of space and time, when, honestly, we know them in no other way. Whereas your ruminations on what memory means to the birds have proven inconclusive. Like you, they’re as routinized in their offices as offices. Like you, they celebrate the light that breaks the rain, throughout the day and without memory, as the arrival of a god.
That’s what that russet brushstroke is below the skyline—her spots lost in the open plains. That’s hunger that blurs her. We cannot see what she is chasing, but we can imagine it. Zebra. Gazelle. Impala. Antelope. The eyes of the animal large in its sockets. I like that lone acacia tree back there—it has this bonsai spirit to it. This calm. And the trio of almost imperceivable stars in the upper corner, those light pink grains, which remind me we are also traveling quick around the sun— 957 times faster than this cheetah, not to mention the speed of the sun inside the Milky Way, and the Milky Way through cold, dark, soundless space— 1.3 million mph, last time I checked. Astronomers and physicists did the math for us, but little did they know what it would do to human minds or hearts—mine is going pretty fast now, just thinking about our velocity, our spiraling out. Here, place your palm against it. Over my sticker that says Visitor.
Landscape with Cheetah Going Seventy in the Serengeti
The youngest deconstructionists among us
are proud at first to spend their days breaking up
great slabs of fired tile every shade of wine
while the masters climb the scaffolds
with their gold pride, their gilt, reaching for
a sandal buckle or the heights of a halo.