Shenandoah Volume 68, Number 1
Volume 68, Number 1 · Fall 2018

Fist

Don’t count on the words you live beside changing:

grief becoming ribbon, tree wolf, cinnamon suitcase

or wealthy or snore or slobber. Because nothing

besides Heaven changes, does it? Only a yellowing sky

from the storm hovering over the sleeping.

Wish for a word like startle—what it might signify

to an animal small as a loaf of bread. How it might shift

in the hovering of words denoting group: a startle of small

children, a startle of girls walking home lonely. Alone,

I meant to say. I meant never to say blossom

or unfolding because a hand will open any number of ways,

to reveal the crescent-moon marks of nails dug in

or a lifeline long and furrowed or a button or a subway token

or a firefly let loose to join the lights pulsing in sync

in the late-night field. That same hand clenched before

history’s stiff lesson—the word I never wished for: fist.

Not raised in protest, and pushed never into mandible or belly.

And not fisting, either, too late, I tried to say

when you professed love in the crowded restaurant.

As if in the closed hand’s lexicon

the clenched body might read flower-of-meat or bud-waiting-

for-rain or anodyne swallowed against the fear of opening.


Janet McAdams is the author of the chapbook Seven Boxes for the Country After (Kent State, 2016), the novel Red Weather (Arizona, 2012), and two collections of poetry, Feral (Salt, 2007) and The Island of Lost Luggage (Arizona, 2000), which won the American Book Award. She teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Poetry and an editor at large for the Kenyon Review.

An Interview with Janet McAdams
From the Archives: An Interview with Janet McAdams (Volume 56, Number 3, 2006) (pdf)