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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press


By: Judd Hess


This is a way you tell me that you live for me, making me

lemon jello even though I’d already made myself lime,

but in portionable bowls, you insist, so that I won’t

tire myself with spooning it from the glass cake pan

on the top shelf of the fridge beside the leftover red

velvet waffles I’d made for the kids after doing

last night’s dishes that we’d agreed to leave in the sink.

You do dishes, too, the breakfast ones, and then

pick up the chapter books and pencilled Christmas lists

left in front of the fireplace. You throw extra logs on

so I won’t be cold and then scold the kids for squabbling

after I’ve yelled at them to stop, and this is when I know

(because you would normally tell me to leave them be)

that this is a way you tell me that you’re afraid of losing me,

not because I’m a decade too young for tomorrow’s screening

nor because my father’s first time turned up malignant polyps

and we agree this is all just preventative anyway, the odds low,

but because we’ve huddled besieged by this virus all year and

they’re pitching field hospitals in parking lots and we’ve made

every gray decision about soccer practices and grocery deliveries

and even putting gas in the van with that precise fear

that propelled the dream I had last night and told you of,

in which we finally go on vacation like we’ve delayed and

delayed, but the motel we stay in is molding red full of spiders

and no matter how many I kill (I am for you a seasoned slayer)

ever larger fangs and spinnerets skitter from closet crannies and

this is a way I tell you that I can repel from myself all dangers

but never quite the terror that I might not suffice for this family

that, in my dream, no matter how I squash and stab at

the quick scuttles toward toes or the leaps into hair, will be

eaten because the motel is a trap that takes our loves, like

this year has, into its mouth - so I woke myself before dawn

with that power over nightmares I learned alone as a child

and started logs in the fireplace, watched soccer on TV

with the kids as they rose, did dishes from the night before

so you wouldn’t, whipped up the red velvet waffles they’d

wished for, and even made jello the gastroenterologist said

I could eat today so that tomorrow doesn’t have to recur like

yesterday has for months and months. There must be a day

after: decades of days no longer webbed-dreading love’s loss.

This is a way I tell you that the man dying nightly in your dream

is not me; but I’m trying to save him, just as you are.


If I am not in segments, but in gaps,

sensed, rather than seen,

as between the seams of stonish despair, faintly

across the face, barely, only just

and then again behind,

in labyrinthine dankness both hope

and but one more confinement, perhaps, to be shucked

lastly, least formidable;

If I have been made a mere tether in the dark, both clew and cuff,

a dim rung, maybe, for his dear hand and then his dearer foot,

fleeing upward from maw toward majesty;

If I smile my use and usefulness;

If alone I smile myself to sleep;

What then, if I am abandoned in sunlight somewhere else

almost a patch of coiled kelp gulping in sudden harsh space

where no gaps narrow the wild-haired wind from crashing shore,

where the absences woven to make me are made meaningless

in the mad-happy and bold tumult of an unwalled world

and I am naked?

I hope that,

despairing, I might drown in sight,

and billow black and white across my own face

until all my confinements be swallowed as in that old dark,

and, when I am ready,

may I stand stingingly upon hot sand

and sing new chords and stops of my own construction

to a wine-dark, stark, and attentive sea.


Judd Hess holds an MFA and an MA from Chapman University, and a BA from UC Irvine. He is a previous winner of the Fugue Poetry Prize, the Ellipsis Prize, the John Fowles Creative Writing Prize for Poetry, has been a finalist for several other awards, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

I tend to write with two operational maxims: that conflict is the defining characteristic of good poetry, and that (to paraphrase Hamlet) literature holds, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature. Sometimes that means translating our own daily conflicts into poetry that helps others see themselves, and sometimes that means seeing ourselves in the conflicts of others. "Love Languages Of A Colonoscopy" is an exercise in the former, and "Ariadne" in the latter.

I enjoy deep reads into the margins of stories and myths, exploring the implications and unanswered questions of characterization. What would Queen Gertrude monologue? What compels Hester Prynne to return to Boston and her scarlet letter after her daughter Pearl's wedding? What regrets does Friar Laurence have while in custody after the double suicide in Verona? In the case of "Ariadne," I tried to imagine what the princess of Knossos would be feeling after having given up everything for Theseus, only to be abandoned en route to Athens. It seemed important to explore the perspective of someone whose convenience to another's objectives had been, it seemed, exploited; whose identity moves, in the poem, from acquiescent absence to the terrifying but courageous exposure of self-assertion.


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