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Jessica Cuello


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Dried dirt on the choke chain, welts
on her stumic, little knots of blood.

Put her down—the dog done,
ears askance in a question to the sky.

Her red-rimmed eyes asked: Will I come back?
She came as a motion in the bedroom—

ghost of cold air passing. I reached to pet her,
my arm twisted. Are you there?

She did not stop. Paws clicked past
the mattress, her chest a holy hill.

Her stumic had no sores, was smooth
as hardened sand beneath her. Cold passed.

I was not a bystander when her stumic
took the hurt. I was both boy and animal,

huddle and bat. I learned violent’s flinch
from her. At night we listened together.

Her stumic was a pillow for my head;
it rose and fell like a cage of breath.


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To be a solgire dressed in blues
my brother signs over his life.
He’s not going on in school.

Below the frame he wears
standard pants, has empty hands.
His upper-half is solgire blue.

He writes from Parris Island.
Dear Sister, When I return,
I’ll go below, inside the tanks,

where it’s dark and small.
I won’t sing the song about Libya:
Hear the teacher ring the bell.

Rape her, kill her. Watch
the children run and yell.

The phone rings to find him

at 5 a.m. and wakes our mom.
He gets no issued blues, only a hatch
like an eyelid shut, and ruined song.

I’m the Slut

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She’s the biggest slut
of all
, the principal says.
I am. I am the twisted
arms at night,
the baby seeker.
A scalp to smell like a rose.

A loss they say. A loss
for us. How I cut
the arms cut
how I make
us leap ahead.
He said he said he said
and she and she.
I am the Renoir girl
tacked to the art room wall
in a haze of gold and cheek.
The boys trade us
as sluts with matching boots.
Pretty bitch, say the boys.
More attention than
we’ve ever had.

World without end,
a sheet in the wind,
is how I parade in the hall
the invisible made visible,
the unimportant—loved.
All my thirteen years I dragged
behind in sandals that hurt my feet,
all my life they said,
hurry up hurry up.
I hung behind.

How to make the light shine through you.
How a body can.
How to hold the light inside you
and draw it to you.
I bled and blossomed
and now am found.
Now am the foundling
of my own pick.
Now every glance
has worth—
my glowing skin, my soft instep.
9th grade and life within.
9th grade and I am mom to be.
I am the burning station
where love arrives
and everything moves
to the wheel’s center
where before I’d been
a spoke
in my mother’s eye:
a burden to her.

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