Three Poems by Jennifer Coleman

by: Jennifer Coleman

Jen Coleman is Walt Whitman and Elizabeth Bishop’s secret lovechild. Reading her work is a good way to dispel fear: no matter how dire the news, she’s here to sing our song: the song of teeming abundance, the song of radiant awareness, the song of the beloved. She claims that in “the crater at the center of truth/ there are no words” yet she finds them, again and again, “to cup and kiss.”

Feeling Octopus

Eight arms feel their way
like eight tongues feeling
out hearts and guts and sticking
to the wet surface, crushing the slick
surface with suckers.
That’s feeling: suckers.

That’s feeling at the total collapse
of reality, where in crawls
the octopus, pooling in the rubble,
the twists of crippled belief,
feeling curious over each bolt,
mortar and mastic that failed to hold
in the blind murky blood of truth
slit open and hemorrhaging, and in comes
this octopus with its shudders of color,
its seeing-skin reflecting
the deep wound: its yellow lobes,
streaks of blue and
red, red, red, red, red.
Keep your worst fear in the corner
of your eye as I move it closer. See it
disappear, and then pop back into sight?
The octopus has a different blind spot:
it can see things only as they are.

My chest has a vital ache. My blood
looks blue under my skin, but is red
in my lungs, red in my heart,
and red when it spills. Like octopus
blood, words that spill from me
change color before they reach your ear.
In the crater at the center of truth
there are no words, silence
but for the incidental sounds
of the octopus body flexing long muscle,
short muscle, round muscle and water,
undulating curiously in the chaos,
curling its ancient tongue-arms into flowered
vines, never losing the horizon
in its rectangle eyes.

I listened for you, my love, in the cold
and salty water, I listened for you with my eyes
locked on the octopus and I yelled
into my diving mask. I pointed with a fury,
willing you to look my way, willing you to see
the strange creature straight down
from my finger, until I looked away, towards you,
my love, and looked back and it was gone,
but far from gone. Home in its mute
and curious home.


Doubt Boat 


Gary Snyder’s Breasts

Beard the color of mud, wrinkled poet,
mystical old man “hung up on Indians”:
Praises! At 85, you really have cared
for yourself, old boy scout,
model of health and sanity.

Who am I, Gary Snyder? Who am I,
having never carved a deer carcass,
built my own house, climbed Everest
or cooked a bullfrog for dinner?

Who am I, Gary Snyder, knowing little
of geology, logging, communal living,
landscape painting or Tibetan dieties?

I am a woman poet. I am. A woman poet
the way you are a nature poet, a
poet as you are a poet,
woman as you are nature,
and animal too. I’m a beast,
a scaly beast and also feathered and
with naked skin and maybe I write with a
vulture feather, too.

I don’t. But maybe I do.

Gary Snyder: poet to poet,
I am asking you now—let go of the breasts.
You have too many breasts already.
You have nineteen books of poems
with as many breasts
(women’s breasts, not your breasts)
as I have nouns in my single book of poems.

I am asking you, old poet: Let go
of the breasts, the breasts
you thought you lay down in ink
as the real thing and the breasts
you maybe lay down in praise, or to unlock
the breasts from their own structure,
to unlock breasts from breasts to go out
and share themselves with others.

But Gary Snyder, grandfather,
they might once have been your breasts
or breasts you conjured
(imaginary breasts with real eyes on them)
but I am telling you now: I am
taking the breasts from your poems and
inviting them here, to mine, where

there is space for them here and here
and here and here if they choose,
if they want to be, if they want to be
images? Okay. And if they want to be lobes?
Okay. And if they want to mean
Something? Okay, but the invitation
is already out, I extended it, and it’s time you
just let the breasts go.

In return I will give you time.
I have far too much time in my poems.
I will give you time, blue-veined and
heavy, alabaster and withered
time that bleeds. Time
to warm your cold hands on,
to cup and kiss.


Jen Coleman of Portland, Oregon is a member of the Spare Room reading series collective. Her book Psalms for Dogs and Sorcerers (Trembling Pillow Press) was selected by Dara Wier for the 2013 Bob Kaufman Book Prize.

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