Two poems by Janice Harrington
On my middle finger, my first pencil pressed a callus, / a writer’s bump: a word and so the rub.
Unless one chooses the appropriate texture,
how can one represent it?
Pit, pebble, pip,
a child’s hop-skip, hop-skip.
The moles along my cheek feel
like spilled rice, or braille, or abacus beads.
Beside the dock, a gull feeds
plastic to its mewing chick.
On my middle finger, my first pencil pressed a callus,
a writer’s bump: a word and so the rub.
After you leave,
the sheets cool.
DIAMONDS AND TOADS
In return for your lack of courtesy I grant that for every word
you speak a snake or toad shall drop out of your mouth.
—Charles Perrault, “Les Fées”
Not the one who spat diamonds, vomited
pearls, whose teeth were chipped by amethyst,
but the other. The one who whispered
syllables of serpent, who hawked Hurter’s spadefoots,
cane toads, and two-toed salamanders.
What became of her, of her new language
of the asp that slipped from the corner of chapped lips,
the gag of reticulated scales against the glottis,
common words reshaped and amphibian:
love’s vestigial tale, those paltry limbs?
What became of her? Did she fear
wanderings of sleep, that she might, because alone,
beseech? Cry out in the darkness?
Did the girl whose cheeks once bulged
with hop toads and mudpuppies learn silence,
to speak only with her eyes, her fingers,
the sway of her hips? The story says she
lived wretchedly with her greedy mother.
But stories distort, omit, alter; meaning writhes.
She married and was always a good wife.
Her lips never parted in judgment or question.
No complaints, never nay or yay or more.
In childbirth, she made her first sound in years,
a long vowel, a deep-gutted moan,
and afterwards from bloodied lips torn wide,
that slithered weight, and later a tongue’s flick
against a swollen nipple, pain that nothing expressed.
Janice N. Harrington’s latest book of poetry is Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin (BOA Editions, 2016). She curates “A Space for Image,” a blog on poetic imagery, and teaches at the University of Illinois, where she is Director of the Creative Writing Program.