The Beginning

Jen McClanaghan Click to

Jen McClanaghan earned her MFA from Columbia University and her PhD from Florida State University. She currently works as resident scholar at The Southern Review. Her poetry manuscript has been a finalist for the Dorset Prize, the National Poetry Series and others. Her work has appeared in The New England Review, The Indiana Review, AGNI Online and The Iowa Review.

And tomorrow there may be tiny eggs
     bought from the farmer: yellow and gray and blue
and his cheese, a small miracle dispatched
          from goats. There may be a llama taking
grass between his teeth, whose chewing into jade saliva
is like old poetry’s heartbreak, ancient couplets
     riding the furred neck, a sound at once remote
and inside the skin.

     it may be different, the water I was formed in
will be old-fashioned, my family knocked from their seahorses,
          from their dusky corners by my wedding,
a day I’m certain of nothing and all things at once. My own
future children layered in mute dust, an idea
     surfacing hotly then growing hidden again
like the dog’s wet tongue.

     I went to Angola’s prison rodeo and everywhere
a sadness broke through. It was in the eyes of all animals, scared
          and tough and irrelevant. It was in the arms
of the little girl, who raced her horse around a barrel before
losing her hat and falling from her saddle after it, gravity
     a hoof-mooned, dirty wonder.
Outside the ring ambulances hummed.

And beyond that,
     in the dusty lanes, well-behaved prisoners sold
rocking chairs and belts. For five bucks one took our photo
          in a mock cell with toilet and bed. I was there
with my bridesmaid. We did our best to look condemned
in striped shirts, the same as the prisoners.
     The photographer was so polite, she and I joked about
a double wedding.

Or another inmate holding Fat Girl, a black lab
     like my own. And on the way home, a dozen miles
of bayou, we stopped at a bar where a former guard sold
          machine-spun daiquiris. She talked about her boyfriend
somewhere back in Angola. And somewhere else,

I see headlines of priests and sexual trespass, a word
     that finds me as a child studying The Lord’s Prayer
for confirmation.

And all this floats up like a pair of hands in supplication,
     or a song broadcasting from Vatican Radio some new hit,
and it’s me singing for all those children, and it’s god
          with a bouquet of baby’s breath, sadness momentarily put on hold.
Tongues roll back into the mouth’s unlocked cell, and I think of
the faithful and the chosen. How tomorrow
     I will be married.

And sometime after, I will think again of Fat Girl learning
          to roll over. I will think of the poor grade
I made in geometry, all the future’s difficult math,
          the secrets that we carry and accrue, the fingers
of my children, fractions of time ever halving
as it does in tri-fold mirrors for which we pay, the grace of
     miniature pardons, of men in flight for a moment
as their horses leave them behind.


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