I am not entirely convinced that Roxane Gay is a single entity. I intend to find out at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, where she will sit for panels and interviews on both Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23
that was the year of sixty-page reports
in defense of the soul’s integrity of plans
cc’d to an unseen G-d called dean
that was the year of keening O with anger
O holy rage of meetings in a dusty room
where plastic chairs had the only
backs that bent of talking over talking
of a lounge where faculty went to share
their sullenness the unleavened taste of it
of the bitter drip of coffee in a paper cup
of human resources where the first
commandment was do nothing nothing at all
of warring tribes of warring articles
of faith of not a metaphor for anything
beyond itself which is to say O blessed cruelty
of colleagues of the broken stub of chalk
of the blackboard smudged where
hands had tried to rub away the truth
For a Former Colleague
I once met with her—who wanted
me thrown out like a casserole
left sitting in the sun too long.
I told myself, don’t nod, don’t nod
as women do, politely, to be palatable,
or smile like something melting,
always the effort to be milky soft.
Sitting there, I had to remind myself,
be still, that I was contained
as if by tempered glass.
Across from me, she hunched
and talked, waving the awkward
oven mitts of her hands. In her mouth
the fungus-gray of a tooth.
Now I know a dull knife
harms more than a sharpened one.
My palm on the cold, ceramic stove,
I stand in the kitchen, imagining the heat
I could switch on inside of me,
the potential for burning everything
I touch. It used to comfort,
thinking of that warmth.
Across from her, I remembered
weeks before, how she wore
resentment like a baggy dress.
She jabbed a finger in my face.
Monster, she said, you aren’t nurturing,
as if I were meant to unbutton my blouse
and take the world to my breast,
my only job the feeding of hungers.
I am no one’s mother.
Even as she spoke, I knew all of this
would be over soon, like a meal
I’d eaten once, the grease and fat—
that one day I would say, remember
when dinner nearly killed me,
the body dropped to a tile floor
where it sweats the sickness out.
If I belong in a kitchen,
the work is only for myself.
And all those times she said I should
bake lasagna, that the meat
of me was serving plates of food.
I taught poems instead. I taught
my students to watch for red parts,
the scalding place of words.
I’m talking to you, old colleague,
because we share an appetite
for hurting one another—we’re joined
by this intemperate thing, this blade.
My kitchen is quiet tonight. Whatever’s left
to say won’t get fresher waiting.
Come, eat with me. Come,
fill yourself, old colleague.
Come, stab with your blunted fork.
His Blood Be on Us, and on Our ChildrenMatthew 27:25
When I hear from a colleague of a colleague,
which is not the same as a friend of a friend,
that I’m hoarding power, that I like to reach
for power the way some clutch at coins,
I’m reminded of how once, in Poland,
I was asked to show my horns,
and the woman held out her hand as if to touch
my curls, find the pointed places on my scalp.
This was in a village in the south. Later,
I could almost forget how she asked
about the babies I must bake into my bread.
She had a mouth exiled of teeth and only
wanted a cigarette. It was difficult to hate her.
The colleague of a colleague sits across from me.
She’s writing on a yellow pad—writing
perhaps in the tight script of the bigoted—
prayers for my poisoned soul. Burn, she’s writing,
burn. I hear that she hates faggots too.
Tonight, someone is knocking gravestones down
in the ancient rite of kicking the dead to dust.
Someone is spraying hooked crosses on a wall.
To the gas the ovens the column of smoke.
The colleague of a colleague won’t eat the cake
I bring to a meeting. Maybe she thinks
I’ve mixed with the eggs my spit, shat in the batter,
as in those stories from the thirteenth century,
where bodies like mine had congress
with animals, the tangled indecency of hooves
and feet, snout to mouth, the twisting tails.
I wonder what she says about the news tonight,
how someone is phoning synagogues, whispering
like a rumor in a hallway, a bomb a bomb a bomb.
Jehanne Dubrow is the author of six poetry collections, including most recently Dots & Dashes, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award. She is an associate professor at the University of North Texas. More information about her work can be found at www.jehannedubrow.com.1