Friday Reads: Braving the Body



Walt Whitman famously wrote, “I am the poet of the body and I am the poet of the soul.” Braving the Body (Harbor Editions, 2024) a new anthology edited by Nicole Callihan, Pichchenda Bao, and Jennifer Franklin is a collection of poems that are both embodied and soulful; they spring from the imaginations and lived experiences of 116 brave bodies (including one who is no longer alive after a long battle with cancer). But in Karen Friedland’s exuberant poem, “It Recurred,” the speaker is present, alive, defiant, “At this tender moment, my death is merely theoretical, and life is all I’ll ever know. In Diane Seuss’s hair “the color of a field mouse” the speaker holds space for a painful teenage memory, Jesus “writing / parables in his head” and the body as “a world / of massive disappointments.” and Justin Wymer’s “pill the color of her hair;” JP Howard’s poem mediates on the body as home and the home as sanctuary in an often inhospitable and unsafe world, “this is a safe place for black boys becoming black men” and Fred Marchant’s prescient speaker tells us “thus i announce the world is burning.” But this is also a collection of the body as conduit of pleasure, joy, love, and freedom as when Brenda Cardenas cries, “Perhaps we lick the nape of a lost lover’s / neck, just to remind them we once tangoed / In the blooming garden of their chest.” As Nicole Callihan writes in her introduction, “Absurd, sublime, anxious, and tender—these poems resonate in the very place they were born—the brave body in all its gore and glory.”   

—Jennifer Franklin 


Cover of the anthology braving the body


My hair? Oh, the color of a field mouse.
By Diane Seuss

Its texture? Dust ball. My body, a world of massive
disappointments. And I
quote: I didn’t realize your stomach would pooch over your two-piece.


Said at the beach when I was sixteen. By my teacher.
That was the year dead
alewives washed up on shore in droves. If they were coins, I would have been

rich, capable of liposuction and Miss

In this passion play, the body is Judas, fat and misunderstood.
In the mirror,
its eyes are increasingly dead

fish. How did Jesus keep

his girlish figure?
Poverty, walking barefoot writing parables in his head,


and getting flogged.
His was a starvation diet.

Bread, dates, olives.
A turtledove when he was lucky.


the burning road
By Fred Marchant 

the teacher draws a line on the black board and urges us to stare at it until our eyes begin to water and sting
until the line starts to waver
until we are not so sure it is only a line
the teacher says the line is the world
now close your eyes and erase that line
the goal is to forget it ever existed
tell us what you see in the darkness left behind
speak without guile, says the teacher, or fear of rebuke
thus i announce the world is burning
this that has come to me is neither dream nor delusion
i see tree-tall rushes on fire, both sides of the road
flame-arms joining together high up
a flailing arch we have to pass under
a red yellow darkness at the heart of it
this is birth i first think, no this is death, no
this is the day we met, no
this is how one of us will have to leave first, no
this is how the other will have to follow, no
this is the low-level roar that cuts through everything
yes a messenger has come to tell us why we are here
yes and why we must pass through this
yes through that which consumes what it was made of



After, Still, I Want Someone to Want My Body
By Justin Wymer

My sweat is dialogic: ancestral: which grayed figure

never bathed or soothed and let the crow eat from his ear.

Which tore his children
with a bullwhip. Which

ate pound cake with ramps as his daughter sucked

a morphine patch.

I learned she bolted
up from her pew at 16

and swore to the congregation her breast was fixed

to kill her, to keep a pimply Bobby in her arms a child longer.

I was born blue. Who
told the umbilicus to shoo

from round the neck,
that it was better I learn

to breathe for after’s surely better

than before. Blue on an Oreo wrapper

in the trash by a clear- 196

orange bottle
meant she’d sold some peaches

and we’d have a roast, meant the day was good.

How many times
did the pucker-faced angels

handpainted armless
in the curio cabinet

tell her the day was good,
go on, peachy in a bed of needles

with a spoon by the pillow.
She said she used it to feed

the cherubs that spoke
to her from the wallpaper.

Who found me in bed
and pinched my grapes

and promised she’d make fruit salad when she got a break.

Fruit cocktail can in the trash by travel-size Listerine

means she’d been spotted after-hours

at the tennis courts again, kneeling.

what you’ve wanted me

Is this

to say
all along? Instead of

“The crow cracked her egg

and fed the yolk a pill

the color of her hair?”


After Life
By Brenda Cárdenas 

Perhaps our ghosts wear the sequined sarongs
and turquoise plumes we would never don in life— string bikinis in the grocery store checkout,
crystals squinting from our belly buttons,
campfire red hair wind-tossed and tangled.

Perhaps we laugh so hard, we snort in public, sweat splashing on a stranger’s perfumed skin. We
swing our Botero hips, pucker crimson lips for kisses from passersby. We befriend all

the invisible canines nipping at our skinless heals.

Perhaps we dance Limbo, lowering the stick,
no worry for pulled hamstrings or broken backs,
so we shimmy and twist, play air guitar on our ribs, hit the mosh pit, body slam and body surf.
We call in sick, perhaps we never go to work.

Perhaps we lick the nape of a lost lover’s
neck, just to remind them we once tangoed
in the blooming garden of their chest before neglecting to pull weeds or water thirsty roots.
Perhaps we envelop them with quiet amends.

Perhaps our ghosts sip martinis and toast the stars, awake all night, lake lapping in our conch shell
ears, endless blue-black waters echoing the loon’s


tremolo, its seamless switch in pitch to remind us that another is always present on a distant shore.


Braving the Body, a new anthology edited by Jennifer Franklin, Nicole Callihan, and Chenda Bao, is out now from Harbor Editions

Jennifer Franklin is the author of three full-length poetry collections including If Some God Shakes Your House (Four Way Books, 2023), finalist for the 2024 Paterson Poetry Prize. Franklin has received a Pushcart Prize, a NYFA/City Artist Corps grant, and a Café Royal Cultural Foundation Literature Award. Her work has been published in anthologies and journals including in American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Society’s “Poetry in Motion,” and The Academy of American Poets “poem-a-day” series. With Nicole Callihan and Chenda Bao, she coedited Braving the Body (Harbor Editions, 2024). She teaches craft workshops at Manhattanville’s MFA program and 24 Pearl Street of the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. For the past ten years, she has taught manuscript revision at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she serves as Program Director. 


Friday Reads: Braving the Body

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