A slap to the cheek sent me running
across the parking lot back
into the grocery to find my mother
among jarred salsas. They were strangers—
a couple—coaxing me into their car like
lines in a film without candy.
I knew it was wrong before
they asked, before my small body followed
them out of the store—ever-obedient calf—
before a hand tried to grab my skull and whacked
my cheek as I turned and fled. The Spring of my youth
brought cities that pushed hungry appendages into
my back, holding me still on public transit, at an
outdoor concert, at a crowded bar that smelled like
dead frogs. In SOMA in San Francisco
I felt the sun on my face before another
stranger’s violence punched it out of
the sky. Hulking, spitting. I saw him
coming and I did not change direction.
I steeled myself and looked him in the eye
before he took a fist plainly to my temple.
Stole nothing, said nothing, saw no one.
Tender, I watched him walk away as
he swore at the clouds about beasts
crowding the flood. Even this morning
a decade later with a child of my own to slip,
I sat beside a suburban creekbed when a man’s
dog’s nails dug into my back’s flesh from behind.
I eyed its owner who looked away and said c’mon git
in lieu of an apology, or any mortal word: another stony
finger extended from the deep, dark wood.
Back in the grocery and out of breath, a pink flower
bloomed on my cheek. My mother turned to look at me—
a rarity when we shopped. Her look seemed
to say, which kind? With silence
I said, neither. An inheritance and
a curse feel the same at the pit
of your core. Every day we are rounding
corners, observing the rack of frozen
Every day I am sticking to my route,
fleeing the scene of perpetual undoing,
carving space for a red
writhing thing at the end of the street,
at the end of my wrists—something
soft and still and holding.
Jessica Q. Stark recently earned her PhD in English from Duke University and her poetry has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Carolina Quarterly, Pleiades, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hobart Pulp, Tupelo Quarterly, Potluck, and for the Glass Poetry Journal: Poets Resist series. Her first poetry manuscript, The Liminal Parade, was selected by Dorothea Lasky for the Double Take Grand Prize in 2016. She is the author of three chapbooks including the mini-chapbook, Vasilisa the Wise, that was published by Ethel Zine Press in 2018. Her first full-length poetry collection, Savage Pageant, which was a finalist for the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Book Prize, the 42 Miles Press Book Prize, and the Rose Metal Press Hybrid Book Prize, was published by Birds, LLC in March 2020. She writes poetry reviews for Carolina Quarterly and is an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI.
the Tuesday poem is curated by rob mclennan