Subtraction: A "Family Poem" by Cordelia Jensen

Subtraction: A "Family Poem" by Cordelia Jensen

As a companion to her marvelous guest post earlier this month, Cordelia Jensen sent me a selection of what she calls her "family poems" that inspired her debut novel, Skyscraping (which I loved). This one really struck a chord with me as capturing the essence of her novel. 

(My apologies for the delay in posting this--it's been a tough couple of weeks around these parts and I haven't been on top of anything.)

Subtraction
 
There’s a place where you still lecture
me, hunching your back over
 
the table telling me more than I ever asked to know,
my glasses are off, I retreat into a half-halo 
 
hidden behind my head, it’s in my blurry space
that you like to come back to me. You are all 
 
kinds of Father there. You are the
veined hand holding my wiggling baby- 
 
body up into the sky, I’m looking
at you down below, our eyes reflecting 
 
back into eachother. You are the DrunkDaddy,
the finger running around the wine glass, 
 
trying to rub out my preteen giggles, so you could
hear the perfect ring, sure not to spill 
 
drops on Mother’s lace. You are also
the teacher. We walk to school together and you hold 
 
one fist in the air, “isn’t this a great day? Life
is beautiful! School days! School days!” And I’m hunched
 
beside you, nervously looking up to the next
two years that transformed you into the old man, the hospital
 
 bed, the shots in the mornings, the lazy days in front
of the television, crying at commercials. I am your hand 
 
to hold, I am the head on your scarred stomach, slowly I become
your shaking body, your morphine doses; I become AIDS, 
 
the modern days of plague, the place where sex took you
into a slow death, but a rapid old age, so that now 
 
in moments before orgasm, I see your sucked cheekbones,
I become yourfear, forcing me to shy away from any climax, 
 
any confrontation where you forgot me, unprotected, shuddering
into lover’s arms, teaching the young men instead of daughters 
 
tucked away in beds. Giving up the classroom, giving up
and into another kind of lecture: me feeding you, holding 
 
one hand, a lover holding another, a graceful death
in candlelight, in the bed I still sleep in where I roll over 
 
into your old body, your old voice, old dead
daddy, picking my dreams apart, over and over: 
 
you smile, sick, dead and alive again in my head.
So scared you will come real in a darkening room, 
 
asking what do I want for dinner, so I need to go school shopping,
do I want to watch your limbs crumble beneath you, in between 
 
beds. Scared but waiting, because you are peace, you are the last
breaths before death, you are the summer heat. And in my nights 
 
of swallowed cries, you are there, holding
me up into the half-halo,
 
calling me, daughter,
“I am free here.”

~Cordelia Jensen


Win it!

If you'd like to snag a copy of Skyscraping, I am giving away (me personally, this giveaway isn't sponsored by the author or publisher) a copy to one person--if Book Depository ships to your country, you can enter. Please enter by Jan 4, 2015

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