Three Poems by Jen DeGregorio


Jesus of Coal

“I was listening to an echo.” —Nick Lowe

They say coal is dead
but I’ll bring it back. Just let me
touch it. See it
ignite. Smell its per-
fumes. In the new world
coal will help you
make friends. Rub a charred piece
on your neck to enhance
your scent. Dump barrels of coal
in front of your house for a flame-
throwing lawn. Cross barefoot
each morning going to work
a robot could do. But I’ll pay you
in coal. Every Friday open your sack
for a big-league amount. At the bar, trade
coal for cocktails, pour gin over coal
for flavor. A little heat. Men used
to drag ice cubes over your ribs
now it’s coal. What’s a little
singed skin? What’s a little
coal between friends? Now
when Santa leaves coal you know
you’ve been good. Coal
is all the rage with the kids. Whose
coal is biggest? Whose burns
brightest? Senior year it’s all coal
bong hits to celebrate college
on a coal scholarship. Coal equals
knowledge. Knowledge equals
power. So whoever wastes coal
on a snowman’s eyes will find him
by evening plucked blind.

The Oval Office

When I picture it, it’s an egg
in which the President’s a small bird
about to hatch. I imagined chicks
the same way in science class, before
the incubator with its bulbs
that mimicked a hen. In my head
they had spare room, kicked back
and when we left each afternoon
they’d chirp secrets through shell
in that song only birds understand.
The President has his own tongue,
too. He tweets to the statues
fake news​, ​fake news​, ​fake news​. I wish
I could hold the Oval Office in one hand,
raise it to my ear like I did when
teacher turned her back. I found it
hard to believe something real
lived in there. What came to mind
was a Saturday morning cartoon, Garfield
and Friends, their life on the farm. Where
green fields stayed green. And Sheldon
the chicken never hatched. He stayed
each year in his shell, orange
legs sticking out, like Humpty Dumpty
blind to whatever hijinks ensued.

Aerial Surveillance

I am right now drafting a contract
between me and the birds
in which the birds agree
to fly. They agree to sing. You say
they would do so without a contract
but I say let’s hold them to it. So far
birds have gotten off easy. They just
flit around from tree to tree. They steal
food for their babies. Meanwhile you
and I go to work every day. We spend
whole years reading about
birds, looking up pictures. How colorful
they can be like peacocks
which don’t seem real. Once I saw
an albino peacock at the zoo
and wondered if it knew. If self-consciousness
was something only humans do. Like when
I see an eagle coasting on a breeze I feel
a tug, a wish to rise, to perch on a pine
and represent my country
on coins and administrative buildings. To know
my face is unlikely to be etched into metal,
to be recognized as endangered, made
the focal point of a revival campaign
and restored to my glory
is part of the contract. It’s one
of the harder rules to uphold, which
the birds understand. That’s why
they always sit in a row on the wire
outside my living-room window
and why my curtains are closed.

Jen DeGregorio’s poetry has appeared in Apogee online, The Baltimore Review, The Collagist, The Cossack Review, PANK, Spoon River Poetry Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere. She has received scholarship awards from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Hunter College, where she earned an MFA in creative writing. She teaches writing to undergraduates at colleges in New York and New Jersey.

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