Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Tuesday poem #399 : Jessica Q. Stark : Catalogue of Random Acts of Violence


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 meat.

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


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