To the home of Jalina Mhyana,
author, artist & graphic designer
based in Florence, Italy
“Walt Whitman would have saluted the fearless way Mhyana makes a kind of religion of the sensual.”
– Amy Gerstler, Poet; National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry winner
“One admires the high-spiritedness and Dionysian spirit that sings loudly in [Jalina’s] poems as well as the large-scale intellect that ranges over various cultures.
– Major Jackson, Poet; Poetry Editor, The Harvard Review
ECHO BOREALIS: Poems for Ecstatic Visionaries Exiles Outcasts Madmen & Hopeless F*cks who Are Nonetheless Filled with Wonder
From a suite of poem-prayers and curses written on the poet’s solo pilgrimage across Europe when she was homeless (following deportation from the UK and exile in Italy) to a requiem for civilian casualties at Hiroshima; from a meditation on the etiquette and lifespan of grieving to a crown of sonnets about a miracle cure using dreadlocks to raise the dead; from porn found in garden catalogs and in church pews to an abstract poem of war-torn Afghanistan where her spouse was deployed – each stanza diffuse as the grenade thrown in her husband’s path; from poem-medicine prescribed by medieval poet-priests to peeling back the palimpsest of Florentine art history; from a paean to the demons within us (the criminal tangled soul) to the gods within the chrysalis who shiver off their skins.
Lunch Ticket, “Counting the Beats” / lyrical essay (forthcoming)
The Southeast Review, “Prospecting” / lyrical essay (forthcoming)
The Cincinnati Review, “Sacre Coeur & Wound Man” / lyrical essay (Issue 15:1, Summer 2018)
Cutbank, “Laughter & Forgetting” / lyrical essay (Issue 87, 2018)
Structo, “RX” / poem (Issue 18, Spring 2018)
(nominated Best of the Net 2015, 2016)
Eclectica, “Ambidextrous Poesie” (finalist, Best of Issue)/ lyrical essay
has a cousin that heals it.
I fancy Hurtsickle
as herbal enemies –
weeds growing in reach
of one another;
the bite and the balm
My love rubs dock leaves
between his hands.
The green poultice
is a soothing stain
for nettle stings
on my red raised
wrists; my reward for
picking berries heedless
of the hedge’s
Midwives mix earth-
tones for the sick,
send healing long-distance;
their words a twisted
root held to the body
with sweat. Ink
stains the skin; armament
spirits who flee from
The country doctor
is priest and poet,
from his quill.
The desperate are dressed
with the written word,
or scribbled in haste
at plague’s bedside.
Rx is Old Latin
for recipe. The word
contains the root
scribe, one who writes
recipes for disease.
The ink, serpent-like,
swathes the patient
in mourning ribbons,
calling the angels in.
Death comes in days.
There is little time
to gather herbs or pray;
sores strung the length
of the torso like
rosaries rubbed raw.
All that remains
is the cure of the soul
as it crawls from the cave
of the last breath
to find St. Michael
above the headboard.
*Published in Structo
Written in Oxford, England
Shadows & Stone
I want to have an inconsolable memory, a memory of shadows and stone.
– Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima Mon Amour
My mother’s grave is empty
at Hiroshima, where victims’ shadows
are printed on the ground
where they burned—
human silhouettes haunting
the sidewalks that would have
caught their falls.
Women remember in the nude,
imprinted with kimono’s silk weave
fifty years later:
pigments turned flesh,
cherry blossoms fresh as love bites.
Springtime holds tight as obi sashes,
branding them Japanese.
Hibakusha exchange condolences
with survivors of Auschwich,
people branded with numbers—
digital clocks on their forearms,
time standing still as shadows.
I pick flowers for mother’s headstone.
Reaching above my head for blossoms
I see myself—girlish shape
burned onto the skin of our house,
My mother’s body, so like mine.
If her arms were reaching
high when her body threw its light,
she might have been throwing
my baby sister in the air,
never to be caught and never to fall,
as if she knew near death
to throw her child to the spirits
the day their shadows
Dedicated to the Hibakusha, Japanese civilian survivors of the1945 atomic bombings
*Published in Room
Written in Misawa, Japan
if the man moved an inch
he’d be dead in the left
turret gunner’s sights
safety off and cocked on his M240B—
Afghanis are never alone
unless they plan to die;
it’s suicide; a radio antenna rising
from his lap
from the 2nd Humvee in the convoy
a soldier eyes the man’s radio
It could be a radio or
a detonation device,
along the dirt road;
if the soldier saves
this one man
he might be killing
his own troops
in the next village as in most
children run in mud slicks
and smiling, climbing
Humvees in the convoy—
they’re kicked away
with babies swaddled to their backs;
they could be strapped
children run barefoot
they keep pace
or fall in puddles between tanks;
drivers aren’t allowed to stop—
there are bombs along
the road fused to the bodies
in the next village
as in most, as in all
children are barefoot in the mud
to soldiers who throw candies
that Americans have sent
from back home
the children are bombs
in their mouths
children run toward the convoy
fingers open wide
like dusty stars
throw candy to the stars
swaddled to their backs;
this is how
the soldiers are on a parade float,
Main Street, Memorial day—
waving machine guns
at children and throwing
candies at them.
They are Veteran’s Day
a big brass band behind them
the villagers are used to caravans,
machine guns, soldiers.
Russians would roll through
shooting anyone they saw;
mothers push daughters
at the mouths of machine guns—
take her with you, they gesture.
Girls emerge from the rocks;
even the clouds are granite.
They trip over the horizon
and yell, “Ahh-lee-ooo!”
I love you
so they won’t be shot,
so their fathers with antennas
in their laps won’t be shot,
so that soldiers will gun
them down with
*Published in Occupoetry: Poets Exploring Economic Justice
Written in Frankfurt, Germany
Garden Variety Porn
I listened to Portishead, enchanted by his
pearly-skinned fruit and tart tongue
long, bisexual body that was
excellent for bedding,
longing for mine! Marriage and children, and I still
give darker pink skin than most
attract a boy like this, androgynous – his sex with its
cranberry underside, so heat-loving and edible
wide tip, I told him, I told him all I wanted was to
open only at night, honey-scented, open to upright stems
relieve us both, bring us to the edge, then slow…
bare-rooted, apricot colors fading
just a little, for a rest, then seep again and again into my
central star, making pale flesh blush red on one side
skin like wine, fingers grappling with my ass, my hip,
producing sweet sap stored at the base of the ovary
pierced nipples under his tongue
developing into scarlet berries
buzzing from sucking and tongue-whipping my
swollen vermilion flesh.
*Published in From East to West: Bicoastal Verse
Written in Tokyo, Japan
Old by association,
my silhouette is pinned
with fixed focus.
Near me, a woman cut
My profile will be cut
in line by each birth, females
pushing us back
on the picture wall.
In hallways and stairways
I’ll stare at my daughters’ heads
framed inches away.
I’ll know their napes like my name.
I’ll stare at the facing frame
but daughters turn
Ada, my thrice-mother,
forebears my short memory.
To me, she is Eve.
Behind her, anonymity.
*Published in The Wishing Bones
(My 2nd chapbook that won the Pudding House Publications Chapbook Prize)
Written in Paris, France
Swallow the Ocean
First, make sure
the ocean is rolled
by an older woman
whose quick fingers
have been rolling the ocean
for as long as you’ve been alive –
She’ll fatten the rice in hot,
sugared water spiked
with rice vinegar
then make a soft bed to wrap
a slip of fish muscle,
squeezing the bamboo rolling mat
until the ocean’s circumference
is compacted in seaweed’s
It takes her just moments
to dress the ocean,
its nudity a pink tongue
from iridescent green nori wrap –
to be eaten
In ancient times
sushi was a method of preservation.
and conveyor belt restaurants,
were pressed between
rice and salt with
heavy stones for several weeks
before the ocean fermented,
and tasted Japanese.
Ask the woman about the old man
and his wife,
how they left rice in an
and found, upon returning,
their rice fermenting
with fish scraps
foraged from the ocean
Each ocean-coin is bite-sized
for ease of consumption,
but there are rules:
don’t mix wasabi in your soy,
or dip sushi
Use the thick ends of your sticks
for common bowls or for passing.
Green your rice with wasabi
so you’ll perspire and panic
that your mouth will melt
beneath American eyes.
Chew pickled ginger between bites,
the wisps of flesh-like
root clearing your mouth
of memory before
the next wave
rolls down your throat.
Swallow the fruit of the sea,
let its sweat fall from your face
into your delicious mouth,
winding its way
back to the ocean in slices.
But you’re not finished:
touch the tip of your chopstick
to the lone grain of rice
that fell from your lips
to the soy sauce plate
and savor the miniature
tastes in its stickiness.
*Published in Japanophile
Written in Hachinohe, Japan
The Wishing Bones
Hence we are hard, we children of the earth
– Ovid, Metamorphoses
A thousand grandmothers ago
Pyrrha and Deucalion repopulated
the world with rocks, bones of Mother Earth,
a generation of my ancestors strained
from the mud of a drowned planet.
But I’m more interested in my earliest
grandmothers, their gills and wetness,
before they crawled from that blue expanse
and learned to carry the sea within them,
in their cells, between their cells, in their eyes.
The buoyancy of ocean has never left us.
It hides in skin’s complex reservoir
where we’re selectively permeable
and our bodies exchange the smallest life.
If we had no need to distinguish
ourselves from others, we’d shrug
this skin that defines lovers
and enemies and opens itself to both.
That’s why I’m more interested
in a thousand grandmothers ago,
organic molecules donning their first
skins and slitting their faces
to make breathing more bearable.
*Published in Verse Libre Quarterly, reprinted in Snow Monkey
Written in Heidelberg, Germany
Our only wealth that year was my growing belly.
I uncoiled spool after spool of artists’ wire,
bending and twisting a house full of life-sized creatures,
a voluptuous mermaid and her sea-kin.
Our house became an ocean with blue walls;
The mermaid and I swam from room to room
while new life floated inside of me.
I thought of our unseen daughter, half-girl, half-fish.
If the mermaid led, would she follow, slip out a window
and enter the falls – a water sprite?
When the electricity stopped flowing into our
house the walls were a moonless sea.
I kept the drapes open, created seascapes by streetlight
while you sold your blood in bright rooms,
machines separating you into various shades of red
that ribboned into other people’s bodies,
the way my blood portioned itself into the two hearts
inside me, dividing its life through both of your girls
before it spilled into the doctor’s hands.
Soon our new family cuddled on the couch,
introducing ourselves in fits of breast milk.
The mermaid’s scales glinted above our heads
as cars passed; a gift of light.
How I wished our mermaid would take us far away,
down the Falls from this city that isn’t a city,
to god knows where; we’d hold on for days, for months,
you’d hold the mermaid’s hand and we’d cluster to you;
our infant nursing from my breast and me suckling
your exhausted arm.
Like mollusks we’d attach our bodies to the mouth
of the river and prospect fortune from its lips; scavengers.
*Published in Ink Pot
Written in Seattle, Washington
Still Life with Spikeseed / Two Views
Incense sticks and lit
cigarettes burn to dust
in Shinto shrines.
Aomori apples bruise
sweetly on the altar,
a manmade landscape –
deities waken to tastes
and scents: flowers, sake,
a blaze of tangerine.
The gods become drunk,
sit on their heels and smoke.
corset sacred trees –
alerting us to spirits
inside the forest.
We wedged gold yen
into spirited trunks,
the price of a prayer.
Our toddlers walked
that hallowed ground
just learning to talk
and fall. Too soft
for shoes, their godless
feet teethed by chestnut seeds
from the mouth
of the path to the altar.
Reverence curls from sacred treetops;
incense resin and lit cigarettes
burn to knuckles in crimson shrines
where farmers waken gods with tastes and smells.
Offerings gleam beneath consecrated trees,
boulders, and caves where Kami nature spirits
minister to congregations of saki cans, lotus root,
and the glow of tangerines; still-lives silent as prayer.
Blessed trees hold their ghosts tight
with twisted shiminawa ropes, rows of paper
lightning less bright than glinting five-yen coins;
prayers wedged beneath the bark.
Spiked seeds thorn hallowed ground.
Our daughters offer the fruits of their bodies,
round and soft, too young for shoes,
immolating their glowing godless feet
on splinters of fore.
*Published in Scrivener’s Pen
Written in London, England
In Roppongi, sex district of Tokyo
a woman ran after me
on the sidewalk asked
if I would come upstairs with her
just 4,000 yen
for thirty minutes she took my hand
removed my shoes at the door
placing them neatly by the others
she helped me into slippers and
poured hot tea
soon another woman motioned me
to a white-curtained room closet-sized clean
undressed me completely admiring
piercings removing my bra
wrapping arms around me for the unfastening
she petted the silver saying
“beautiful, beautiful” with an accent
the way a lesser dog rolls
over on its back
this is how they talk to men
she oiled my neck back ass and legs climbed
on top of me suspending herself
from a pole
on the ceiling
she sat on me
bent-kneed legs slipping down the sides
of my back s l o w l y
I felt her warmth
nakedness on my spine
she stayed open a long time
rubbed my lower back no hands
when I rolled she tried my nipples
squeezed smiled asked
if I wanted
another half hour
it would be 4,000 yen a full massage
but I couldn’t do it
she dressed me ceremoniously
hugged me again
my bra caught its tail
she shined my jewelry
with a velvet cloth slid
earrings into my skin I changed
but she was lacing my shoes bent
bowing to me.
*Published in The Wishing Bones
Written in Tokyo, Japan
Japanese Girls’ Day
During Hina Matsuri, Japanese girls confide their secret longings and wrongdoings to wooden Kokeshi dolls, then throw the dolls into the ocean; guilt offerings, little wounds with salt in their eyes. What has become of these dolls—small phallic bodies with painted kimonos, armless and legless? They can’t swim. They float from Japanese shorelines in all directions one day a year, brightly pigmented streaks of color radiating outward; missiles launched in a young girls’ crusade. Maybe they bob onto Korean shores, mistaken for fish, or maybe the long finger of Vladivostock beckons them, the promise of cold winters and hard work; a denial of the flesh. Perhaps they sink to the black of ocean where seaweed tongues lick and lick, little gossips. My dolls hold my soft spots inside of them. Every year a little of my life leaves Japan, the grit of desire enveloped with pearly fluid until it hardens, no longer a nuisance. I wonder so many things. I wonder if my dolls sense one another, if they communicate like mermaids or whales. Do they know they are family, each issued from the same mother-girl? At a certain age we stop celebrating Hina Matsuri. The dolls would become so large, they would dwarf our adult bodies, too heavy to throw to the briny mouth of the ocean. That is what it means to grow up: to keep everything inside of you, inside of you.
*Published in Rhino
Written in Waikiki, Hawaii
If I Die Young
Tie streamers to the bumper and trail beer cans behind us
to wake up the earth and tell her I’m ready.
If there’s blood, let it drip from my five-nippled feet
and feed me to the drunk neighbors, girl dipped in wine.
If I must die young, don’t imagine me in heaven.
I’ll be haunting the hollows of fruit trees,
sucking syrup from tangerines and kissing
their sweet segments like lips.
I’ll carve poems on their trunks and grow leafy wings
to blend with the branches when larger spirits
try to dominate me.
If I must die young, and slowly, ask the Little Prince
if I can borrow his sheep’s box with holes in it.
You can imagine me thriving in an unseen corner.
If I must die young, don’t confine me to the ground,
sleeping with strangers in earth’s dreamless bed.
If I must die young, bury me
in a music box. I’ll be the pale ballerina with dirt
in her hair. Attach my painless feet to metal springs
and open the lid when you visit.
Watch me rise and pirouette, my arms overhead tickling
the dark night’s belly until I’m dizzy, until the stars
melt and spiral into a halo over my head
and I’ve stirred my death into the sky.
*Published in Branches Quarterly, reprinted in Bicoastal Verse
(Nominated for the Pushcart Prize)
Written in Brugge, Belgium
Lo! As that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went thy spell through him,
and left his straight neck bent and round his heart one strangling, golden hair.
– Dante Gabriel Rossetti
You ask me to undream you now, say things have changed, your wife
willing us back to the wish state, un-truing us; my fate dictated by the mute woman in your picture frames, turned face down on the tables.
I lifted one once, like disinterring the dead. She smiled at me from the frame of your embrace.
I imagine her reversing us, a remote control in her hand rewinding three months of lovemaking in triple time on the TV screen.
See my bright body against yours in the dark room? I wrestle naked with the dress that snakes over my head, consuming me.
Soon you’ve pinned the snake to the floor on the side of your bed again, and your body is white above mine-
We wrestle with eight limbs.
My breasts glow with moonlight then blink back into the black bra, a strobe light in the dark room. I flicker dark beneath the white stars of your hands.
Our kisses are quick: birds pecking, struggling, pecking again and flying away.
With each kiss in the cold house we swallow clouds of breath- exhaled spirit, speech bubbles we’d rather lick away than fill with words.
We lay tangled as the tape rewinds our breathing and whispers. We are so still, it seems the tape has stopped. We look dead in the dark room.
Soon we stir, un-embrace from bed to hallway, falling backward into the bathtub as candles ignite beneath your face.
You’re reading me a book in the water –lips moving so fast, they’re vibrating. Nipples harden in the breeze of turned pages.
We run naked from room to room, keeping the walls warm. Our bodies blur through the halls of your house, its winter circulation.
In the tape’s last gasp I’m walking backwards out your door the last time. Before I exit, our eyes close and lips suckle forever – we seem to fall asleep here, exhausted with kissing.
If your wife stopped rewinding now and pressed play we’d see I’m entering your house for the first time – you’d bend to the flame of my hair, your body melting into mine. The first of many embraces.
I hear the screeching noise – the tape has come to the end, or in this case the beginning: there I am in my kitchen making dinner for my husband who was giving us his blessings.
Though I’ve never seen your house at this point, the map you drew hangs on our fridge next to the photo of you and me and my husband, arm in arm in arm, celebrating.
I’m running my fingers over the map, curious, imagining myself at your door. If she hits stop here, history will repeat. She must continue back to a point before the map, before we meet on the military base in this rural Japanese farming town.
I keep going back to a quote by Rumi like I returned to your house that winter –
Lovers do not find each other/ They are in each other all along
If that’s so, she must rewind until my life is unmade, must watch my body fly like a ghost on the screen back to its first germ of life, snuffing my youngest self in avoidance of you.
your wife is
back in the
begs you to
in your minds’
a video tape
the flame of
my hair un
its whip give
it to that bitch
I receive her
says our sex
undone in re
climax is a
the bed is made
but our minds
arm in arm
voices so faint
we look dead
in the dark
we rise back
with wet step
to the bath
on the ledge
as you purse
your lips they
you read to
me aloud you
me the water
drains up the
nipples on end
we rise dry
run room to
in halls walls
up against it
even the stairs
up my scent
paper my sweat
the way you
mark the house
night is short
my dark dress
flies from floor
out your door
hey you say
what a surprise
to see you
I think you
you came so
come in let’s
You ask me to undream you now
that things have taken a turn, your wife’s hand
willing us back to the wish state,
So I’ll play along, imagine reversing
the course of events, a remote control
in her hand rewinding the past three months;
making love backwards
in fast motion on the TV screen:
See my bright naked body
against yours in the darkened bedroom?
A tornado of black velvet wells above my head
and slips over me so I am clothed again,
your sex in mine, stabbing—
the clothes come and go,
the stabbing starts and stops, your cock
unsure of my little deaths.
My breasts bounce from the black bra
to your kissing before the straps
tuck them up again into my dress,
breasts glowing then darkening,
a strobe light beneath your hands
that clothe and unclothe me, make me
appear and disappear on the screen.
While our bodies struggle to be seen
our kisses are violent and quick—
birds pecking, getting caught,
pecking again and flying away.
With each kiss in the cold house
we swallow clouds of breath
that hover warmly around our faces,
traces of spirit
entering each other’s bodies
through frosty lips,
little speech bubbles we’d rather lick away
than fill with words.
In between making love
we lay tangled in each other, staring,
holding each other gently as the tape rewinds
our thoughts and our bodies.
Despite this, it seems the rewinding has stopped,
our hearts and breathing
and whispers so faint,
we look dead in the dark room—paused.
Soon we stir, uncuddle each other
reluctantly from bed to hallway,
falling backward into the bathtub
as candles ignite spontaneously
when you bend your face to them.
Now you’re reading me a book in the water
your lips are moving so fast,
they’re vibrating, and my nipples harden
in the breeze of quickly turned pages.
Despite the cold,
we run nearly naked from room to room,
moving so quickly
we’re keeping the walls warm,
a skin-blur winding through the corridors
of your house, its winter circulation.
Near the end of the rewinding,
I’m walking backwards
out your door for the last time.
Before I exit, our eyes close and lips suckle
onto each other endlessly—
on TV we are seemingly narcoleptic,
falling asleep face to face
exhausted with kissing.
If your wife stopped rewinding now
and pressed play we’d see that I’m
actually entering your house
for the first time – we’d see you bending
toward the flame of my bright hair, your body
curving into mine, relaxing as if melted,
giving the first of many embraces.
The tape is making that screeching noise
like it does when it’s almost come to the end,
or in this case the beginning,
and there I am in my own kitchen
making dinner for my husband
who was just about to give us his blessings.
Though I’ve never seen your house at this point,
the map you drew hangs on our refrigerator
next to the photo of you and me and my husband,
arm in arm in arm, celebrating
the serendipity of friendship.
I’m running my fingers over the map, curious,
already imagining myself at your doorstep.
If she hits stop here the whole thing will happen
all over again,
so she must continue back to a point
before the map, before we met
on a military base in this dilapidated Japanese
I keep going back to a quote by Rumi
like I kept going back to your house that winter—
Lovers do not find each other,
They are in each other all along.
If that’s so,
she must rewind until my life is unmade,
watch my body fly like a ghost
on the screen far back to its very germ of life,
snuffing my youngest self
in avoidance of you.
*Published in Eclectica, reprinted in Entelechy: Mind & Culture
Written in Misawa, Japan