Many of us start the new year resolving to be healthier. We promise ourselves this year we will get to the gym, lose weight, quit smoking, or engage in the dreaded “Dry January.” (Remind me again why I decided to do this?) Everywhere headlines and magazine covers are focusing on health and the body.
It seems nearly everyone is craving something they’ve given up, so for our January Poetry We Admire, Palette offers you some delicious, nutritious, calorie-free poetry—specifically our own little “best of” collection of recently published poems around the net on the theme of Body. From head to toes, these poems debate, investigate, and celebrate the human body, reveling in skin, bone, sinew, lungs, and heart.
This month we feature poems from Abbie Kiefer in Whale Road Review, Twila Newey in Radar Poetry, Alina Stefanescu in Virga, Alec Prevett in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, torrin a. greathouse in Poetry, Omotara James in Believer, and Kyla Houbolt in Kissing Dynamite.
Forget my childhood home,
its tidy basement bleeding radon,
my mom’s lungs turned wet
and poisonous. Forget those lungs,
my own lungs, my husband’s lungs
and all the cigarettes he smoked in college.
from “Resolutions” by Abbie Kiefer
in Whale Road Review
While the poem’s title is “Resolutions,” the narrator in Kiefer’s memorable poem has almost but not quite resolved to “lighten up / a little.” Like so many of us, she’s been thinking maybe she should. In fact, her problem is that she thinks too much, usually imagining the worst case scenario and all of the potential harms that could befall her husband and children. The poem is a delightful balance of quirkiness and vulnerability, as the narrator’s myriad day-to-day worries are laid out in litany, full of action words and directives from her higher self to “Let the boys go barefoot—/ in the soupy pool shower room” and “Stop imagining my husband’s life as a widower.” The likable narrator’s anxieties are utterly relatable and the poem is perfectly paced and beautifully crafted.
I have known my body as a plexus of river maybe
forever vessel & blue-green vein, a topographical map flowing just beneath
my skin, raised, pooled at the pale inner bend of elbow
full, easy target for red needled penetration.
from “Liquid Cartography” by Twila Newey
in Radar Poetry
A body traveling in waves like light can count how many
atoms make the branches of finger or wing,
measure the web of skin stretched
calculate distance between bone & sinew,
between tree & ocean
between night & day.
from “Portrait of the Body as Light & Shade” by Twila Newey
in Radar Poetry
Twila Newey, a finalist for the 2019 Coniston Prize, has five stunning poems featured in the most recent issue of Radar. As evidenced in the two excerpts selected here, Newey’s poems are layered with rich images and gorgeous language highlighting the natural world and how we as humans are part of it. The poems remind us that our bodies—like the river, oceans, and trees—are all made of water, light, and atoms. Please treat yourself by reading this entire group of poems in full and also have a listen to the lovely audio where the poet reads them with musical accompaniment, enhancing their already mystical quality. These are not to be missed.
The child considers color, labor, light
as I recover Mom’s blood clot, the secret stitched
in her pelvis on that flight away from us.
An embolus in Amsterdam changed the climate
of our lives, leaving only the glacier of me,
floating. Now flying
from “Reading Walden to my Daughter in the Sky” by Alina Stefanescu
Stefanescu’s poem grieves a devastating loss while the narrator also confronts her own mortality and contemplates how our bodies ultimately fail us. I am in awe of that astonishingly accurate metaphor of grief changing the climate of our lives, “leaving only the glacier of me,” as well as the striking image in the repeated phrase, “on a flight, all eyes grow wings.” As the narrative unfolds, the speaker must carefully navigate attending to the details of her mother’s death while also being a mother and reassuring her own daughter that they will not die too, aware that at any moment fate could make a liar of her.
Be sure to check out Stefanescu’s other poem, “Grief is Lust” in the same issue of Virga. It begins with the wonderful opening line, “I could kneel in the hymn of his hands” and continues deeper into the tender space of love and loss, as the speaker yearns for her mother’s soup (“I am starved for a meal / only the dead / can make.”)
Or the roads on an old map
on the wall of the room of your life. Body
as house, body as vehicle, body as the map
smoothed unceremoniously across the dashboard.
from “Toward Some Meager Body” by Alec Prevett
in Glass: A Journal of Poetry
Prevett expertly takes the metaphor of body as vehicle and map to its fullest ends: “vein for road, blue for back to the start, skin the unfurled / paper: / now your body is simple, everything defined and radiating/ from the heart.” Then the poem turns on its own premise, pointing at the illusions of the body, like how our veins appear blue: “But this is not the truth. No single part of you is a river. Your veins: a trick of the light, what little of it can pass through the parchment of you.” I love how the poem zooms in on the hand images— wrists in the sun, knots of veins, blood coursing through the fingertips, a sudden fist. Gorgeous.
The week before, a stranger spat on my feet on my way to work, another stalked me through the station yelling Chick dick, chick dick, chick dick, repeating it almost as if it were a prayer. Today, I slide the dead bolt shut behind me—exhale a breath I don’t remember holding. Tomorrow, who knows? Forgive me. I cannot find the poem in all of this, but I can’t bear to let it go unspoken.
from “Litany of Ordinary Violences” by torrin a. greathouse
As soon as I read this poem, I knew I wanted to include it in the series because torrin a. greathouse is a genius and this poem shook me to my core. “Litany of Ordinary Violences” is a harrowing account of the lived experience of the large and small everyday violences a trans womxn encounters just trying to take the subway or walk down the street living their life. The poem powerfully illustrates how bodies can be weaponized and used to intimidate and harm, and also how much a body and soul can withstand.
Spare me your thin tidings
bring round your unsolicited fats
Your baby fat, your tired fat
fat of the evening tide
Fat of the early worm
bring me that stubborn belly
Fat of the unspoken
under-served and unrequited
Pocked, puckered and long-pummeled
from “Bodies Like Oceans” by Omotara James
Yes, yes, yes!!! I adore this poem, as a celebration of curves and the people who own them. It flips the bird at the notion of seasonal self-deprivation and instead sings the praises of “fat-on-fat-on fat fat” with an abundance of anaphora and terrific consonance. I can’t read this poem without smiling. “Me, I stay alive and well / rounded at every corner.” Perfection. I just want to read it again and again and again, savoring each juicy word in my mouth.
and then how beautiful is this walking —
oh we must tell it so, how variously
stumbling and graceful, how tripping,
how halting, how purposed foot by foot
by foot, and oh the toes. Ah! Have you ever
thought of anything so marvelous, and
the fact that most of us have ten of them!
from “Not Yet—A Whimsical Meditation on Death” by Kyla Houbolt
in Kissing Dynamite
Another poem I dare you to read without smiling. I’m going to go ahead and speak for the planet: Kyla Houbolt’s sense of wonderment is what we all need right now. Her voice is authentic and refreshing in this ode to feet, toes, walking, even celebrating the stumbling and halting of life. Infused with Houbolt’s radiant energy, this poem moves and is moving. If you want to see more of Houbolt’s work, you can pre-order her microchapbook, Dawn’s Fool available here through Ice Floe Press.