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Lissa Kiernan


I never asked to be dressed in pink muslin,
much less to be born in this
featureless field. How many days did I wake
to find myself down on the ground?
Nights, he came to me. Breath akin
to wet hay. Walked me to the barn—

the length of a belt away.
Silent. A tuning fork,
vibrating. In my mind,

I was already naked and nestled
within a crow's wing. I'd swing
across the widening to where

the end of thought, end of want
was not nested somewhere in this shit-
brown hair. If the night was kind,

I might return to find him gone.
Stumble across this apron of grass,
crumpling as far away as I could get

yet still see what passed for home.
I wished then mostly for the pinking
sky to be brought to a stop. Framed.

I'd turn my head from left to right.
Search for the sensible horizon.


his hand was an airless cage,
meticulous nails brailing
the hollows of my throat
as if to gauge how deftly
it could be done.

Sketches of Spain buzzed
hazily. His breath ice-
picked my ear: if I tied you up,
what then?
His teeth shone
like freshly cut keys—
his eyes—common graves.


I want to write the poem that won't make mother cry,
to wax oh, so poetic: lemon suns in emerald skies.
But instead we get high, Daddy,
you said, let's get high.

Had barely shed my egg-tooth, but how could I refuse?
You claimed you had the blues. I had the blues, too.
And I wanted to be cool for you, Daddy,
I wanted to be cool.

I went out on a limb to show how high I could fly,
how low I could blow, how smooth I could buy.
Days in the weeds, nights in the wine, Daddy.
Daze of weed, flights of wine.

Gulls began to circle, jutting scarlet beaks in my face.
My eyes were distant cities, my mind a foggy maze.
I was headed for a meltdown, Daddy—
I had flown too far away.

Master and harsh mistress, shepherd and black sheep:
you were the place the sun rose, but one night you went to sleep,
with the sun half-set on the horizon, Daddy,
your face a sail-white sheet.

For a long time after you died, I wanted to die, too.
Days, I studied altitudes. Nights, I surveyed tides.
There's a thousand ways to commit suicide, Daddy,
a thousand ways to die.

For the first half of my life, I lived like I was flying.
For my second act, I lived like I was dying.
Finally I am burned out from all this trying—
Daddy, I am so mule-tired.

Going to lay my head down in this cold teal sea.
Going to let salt-sweet waves lick these wing-bones clean.
Feel them rock me to sleep, Daddy.
Feel them rock me to sleep.


Lissa Kiernan is reading poems about nipples. Male nipples. Mother's nipples.
The full catastrophe. And contemplating her own. Poem, that is.

Some gone high school friend finds that LOL funny, and potty-mouth
Sus quips: for the full catastrophe, you might need to pull out a tit or two.

So I start to think what if? Just steps to the bathroom mirror, and I'm home
alone. I slip one strap down my shoulder. Out it springs. Half-

erect nipple, rosebud in the middle, and since now I feel unbalanced,
I let the other one out of its sling. Its "shelf," as it's called in fashion-

forward magazines. I take my breast off its shelf. No overtones there.
No. Suddenly, mother's face is in the mirror and she's mouthing

in slow-mo: Whooo do you think you are? Maaaarilyn Monroooooe?
Forty-six years old and I still feel shame wash warmly over me.

My nipples have never nursed and it's looking like they never will.
I ponder my erection, marveling a little, admiring the areola, its texture

like a waffled ice cream cone's tip— silhouette: ukiyo-e volcano.
Now grandfather's in the mirror, too. His nipples stand at attention

on mounded breasts, heaving under mauve Qiana. We are watching
TV in his Florida room, trees outside heavy with limes. His arm

branches my shoulder, then crawls down my back and around
from behind. Blood stipples my face as my father laughs at Edith

stifling herself on All in the Family, and Nana slinks to the kitchen
to scoop rock-hard Breyers, the kind with visible specks of vanilla bean.

I focus on her wrists, each thrust and twist. The contortion of her lips.
As my nipples commence to flare—with a mind of their own.

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