Six Poems by Jessica Lawson



seasonal employment

the sun sets at 4:36pm today how does early dark affect you solstice is a different day every year how does early dark affect you they have made some cutbacks in the sun department a constant temporary position a temporary constant loss how does early dark affect you solstice has been declared a permanent condition in perpetuity in slivers of inedible moonlight chart the market cycle and budget the time to bleed how does early dark affect you the season employs us in lighting lamps we can’t afford when the paycheck blinks illumination out how does early dark affect you so your seasonal disorder registers so your seasonal disorder cashes so your seasonal disorder checks its bank statement so the disappearing daylight holds your hand and hunkers down how does early dark affect you ok boomer so just radio us a warm globe a hot minute a mercury thermometer deeper into retrograde and even if we can fight our way to fifteen an hour there’s a millennial killing industry there’s a concealed carrying cross there’s only a second to amend the shot hurtling us into the sun it is not EARLY it is not AFFECT it never DOES it’s not about YOU it’s barely HOW it’s always DARK. the big tipper and the little tipper quiet themselves to static. the sun sets at 4:36pm today forever. what even is early dark in late capitalism.

night cleaning

knowing i would be         stuck in       the apartment this mother’s
day i was thoughtfully           regifted           a smaller set of pliers
see i work        my intestinal tract at night      and large tools only
crowd my small rooms                      she is the angel of the house
moving life along      in inner rivers      of what the body chooses
not to handle
time     a different virus              with too high a rent
survives as a bare smile behind        this mask of my skin
my joints ache as another office opens    or when there is weather

the kids are sleeping now      and i carpenter the shit out of myself
make a wooden landing                  for each new morning


That gift subscription to Playboy Magazine followed me for 5+ years. I never sent them money and never updated my address, but each month it came, like a corporate menstrual cycle. My boyfriend’s best friend liked that I liked girls and he sent me the gift subscription for my 19th birthday as a way of demonstrating his approval. An approval he needed me to need.

A lot of my guy friends had a similar response. None of them meant harm, and growing up queer in southern Indiana I wasn’t picky about the kinds of support I accepted, but more than once they complimented me on the attractiveness of my high school girlfriend as if I’d sculpted her from clay. To say in solidarity: I approve of you fucking this. I never heard them talk like that with other men, but I can’t be everywhere at once.

How to recognize queer womanhood
(a man’s guide, reverse engineered by the subject of study):

1. It’s like a ping pong table.
2. A very hot ping pong table.
3. She’s two halves of a self-sustaining very oiled ping pong table.
4. It’s like Thong Pong.
5. One side is the person who fucks girls (like I, a man, do).
6. On the other side is the one getting fucked (girl, fucked by men like me).
7. She goes both those ways. She is the girl and is also the fucker of girls.
8. She is doer and she is for doing and done for obviously me.
8a. I am a queer femme trapped in this game help.
8b. I try to hover on one edge of the screen as the doer of girl.
8c. Hover so you won’t notice I am a girl myself.
8d. I am a Hoosier teenager with a sailor’s mouth who talks about the girls I fuck like they
are the girls you fuck so you won’t notice my shadow so that I am safe from the box my
body will put me in if you decide I am made for fucking the same way.

Playboy never turned me on. I cut out the centerfolds and tape them to the windows so no one will see me undress at night. Sometimes I fall in love with men and ignore the paddle at my back, the net my hair tangles in.

I apologize to the women I loved and tried to fuck when men were trying to teach me how. I stay up late on the internet, reading DIY mechanics columns. I will build a document shredder between my thighs and let the years of unsolicited subscription fall back out of me, confetti blood and paper snowflakes scattering to the hardwood and my bare feet below. Bibliografia Dentata. Dagger Femme.

Rent: A Ripped Sonnet Corona

the crown sonnet, or sonnet corona, is a literary form
comprised of a sonnet series, each of whose first line
is taken from the final line of the previous. think of it
as a study in inevitability, or in making the ends meet


my landlord says i owe him on the first

he’ll wait for hell to freeze before rent does
rent is a portion of a lease on life
flatter grade curves better kept indoors
but doors are locking in our face and now
my landlord screams i owe him on the first
the contract of the sonnet crown is this:
keep saying what you’ve said until it binds

before you sign        in blood      define your terms
lest work and health and death should come to mean
something other than the virus          words
contaminate       spread meaning           don’t leave metaphors
lying on your counter                    wash your hands

rent (verb, past tense): having ripped wide open

the name corona means the crown itself


the name corona means the crown itself
has always been infected       see the ring
of gold around the brows of men whose mettle
is guaranteed a testing
money’s sick
and trickles blood downriver to the basement
that we call garden level so we can
pretend that on our brows there too exists
a golden snake eating its own looped tail
when really all the crown will give to us
are jeweled points atop that cut our hands
falling from window just those last six feet

the landlord screams for rent from social distance
at such an interval       we’ll maintain it best
when they send us six feet below the earth


when they send us six feet below the earth
death is the perfect distance for sending
yet another bill for having tried
to keep the living room in proper function
dying rooms cut costs and are less mess
than eviction       wash your hands again
as if the money passing through them isn’t
itself more dirty than the work they’ve done

the other day my friend replied online
to some trump apologist who trusts
his dick and all its worries more than Docs
he said she was too young to know a damn
when she replied that she is nearly forty
he said he’d cut her open        count the rings


He can’t but rent us open         count the coins
and blooded diamonds tumbling out of us
when you’re a star you’ve got a dib on sparkles
as long as all her glister is not old
the landlord sent a letter out today
saying he’s so sorry we’re all dead
but that among our gaping wounds there must
be something still that we could pan for gold
money is a construct         and by this
I mean that money is a lullaby
that money made up for itself one night
money lulls itself to sleep and dreams
of hammering canary skulls to stars
and naming every one after its shadow


the landlord named the portion of my shadow
that i can be expected to part with
though shadow bones dislodge with meated ones
it’s shallow to discuss material things
in times like these                i budget just one arm
to keep when this is done               i need the elbow
in the event i have a cough to cover
before i die of hunger
there isn’t that much point in filling lines   [ten syllables is my rent for lines
of this poem, blank verse shooting
blanks, a pretend power that remains
dangerous if the prop is aiming wrong]
the budget of a poem still assumes
there will be breath enough to say it with
when all is said and done (                      )
some swallowed bleach———————
please don’t call this editing


[insert the last last line here. or don’t. whatever. poetic stimulus falls short]

i can’t begin this one by saying again
what’s been already said       because i can’t
protect myself by wrapping up in language

language will not do the work of gloves

rent is just another tense for ripping
gig economy as the opening up
i’m forced to make to stay alive and yes
i’ve lived the other side of that metaphor
so i will use it how i damn well please
quarantine has zipped my skin into
the insulation of my walls       then stitched the walls
into the lining of my empty wallet
there is a notice on my door today
telling me that all of these must spread
but i can’t see it if i die inside

entrance interview

i can work you
if you want

describe a time you had to take on more at a job

professionalism is when
i take for granted
like so much fucking
that i must enjoy this
because i’m told i do it well

describe a job you had to take on more

what i do well is unhinging my body’s every jaw
to admit a wider girth
than the space i took already

describe your mouth as a species of work

hook me to the wall
pay my dues on time

describe a job you handled a team

dare me i swell
to fit my cunt around
anything asked of me
flesh lip the rim of office computers
stationary and blood
pressure equipment
i’m a good girl i ask
to fit even more
sibilant Ss shedding skin as a snake
in pussy’s long middle
call my body by its slow name
coil out and squeeze
swallow eggs the wrong way
look at her go

describe a team that handled your every mouth

cyborg thrust toward wet capital
look at me and all      i can take
i can take the work      can take the weight    can take the whole circumference of a full plate
i can take a heavy load     take a dirty load     take a snake moan direct i can take a big cock
i can take saying it to my face i can take long nights i can take a bigger cock
i can take a blown wad i can take a beating i can take a dark balloon of blood
i can take this i can take this         i can take you watching
as i superwoman my way along the shaft of a constant soaking
i can take these work conditions and put them on each future piece of paper
i am defined by the horror of what i can gracefully handle
i can spit out the tooth and change the letterhead to something classy

i can take your entire hand
i can take the money in it

describe in comfortable language the hot fraying edge of your elasticity

the hardware rumbles my belly
you tell me this is me getting mine


their little hands cut the volume     we know a fairy tale
is an adaptive strategy            in the face of what
can happen to these bodies
we’ve so newly rented               from the ground

once upon a time a sister and a brother had to run away from the opening sentence in which the mother is dead already          so their little hands rip the pages into crumbs and panic scatters the full length of the deepening forest.

not far from here    a daughter and a son built a waterfall
out of paper                     the premise of the story always
absent mother                                this tiny family moves
suitcases and small furniture          to the pulp waterfall’s   far side
paper is opaque     it is needless     to fear death by water
waste land tucks its waist band with old collection notes
a little family waits for the hidden seam of quiet

the daughter and son have a broke mommy who doesn’t sleep anymore      she stays awake at the spinning wheel weaving straw into automatic payments   when she runs out of straw she spins her plasma instead           separate the matter from the blood                the paper water falls a confetti of the stories
my daughter and my son
tell me

a world in which bedtime will find us all       stuck snug
in the unbudging swaddle of years together         always

not long ago my children asked me
what is my bank balance?
what type is my blood?
if i am sleeping?
what is the definition of opaque?
i said it is the opposite of see-through
you can’t tell what’s on the other side
they unwind the plasma bandage from my arm
asking me to try again

my answers plash the rock floor
saying less than water does

once upon a time two little babies were picked up from little baby school by a babysitter unexpected who said your mommy needs a little longer to get here and there was no crying because the babies were never told the entire story

somewhere else the hospital swallowed me
i checked my watch and counted aloud the fingers
held before my eyes

beyond the forest, in a land of cookies and waiting, two little babies watch the night fall. the king of sleep tickles his chin from a distant cloud and the babies mouth a spell for her, not to be taken. love is staying awake a little longer. the moon activates each clean stone. two babies tell themselves new versions of snow white, remembering when she used to bring home apples. they kiss the glass of the babysitter’s window, noting each small difference between a coffin and a cradle.

(crawling i carry the smallest house between my shoulderblades
little bricks cut my wings to paper       i don’t need to fly      i only need
to outrun worms)

a noise in the forest sops every drop of darkness
till their mother is birthed from it
slick and pale
the slip of paper wound around her wrist
bearing rumplestiltskin’s name
and a series of numbers

Jessica Lawson (she/her/hers) is Denver-based writer, teacher, and activist. Her debut book of poetry, Gash Atlas (forthcoming 2021), was selected by judge Erica Hunt for the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, and her chapbook Rot Contracts appeared summer 2020 (Trouble Department). A Pushcart-nominated poet, her creative writing has appeared in The Rumpus; Entropy; Dreginald; Yes, Poetry; The Wanderer; Cosmonauts Avenue; and elsewhere. She is currently at work on her second book project, a portrait of bodily vulnerability at the intersection of poverty, sex, and trauma.

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