» Poetry

Two Poems


My mother called

the antique mahogany dresser

that held her daughters’ underwear

in the hallway that ran

from her room to ours


a lowboy. On top of him,

she set an antique clock

that chimed every hour,

counting our lives for us.


At noon, I drank

in twelve bells, counting

ten on my fingers

and tapping my heart twice

with my pointer finger.

I was a child in love


with ritual but

I never questioned

my mother’s—to house

her three daughters’

multi-colored snake pit

of lace and satin and cotton

in the same wooden box,


stored where other mothers

treasured silver knives,

miniature spoons, and linen

they knew how to fold

into birds that posed on bone

china plates as men took

their seats at fancy tables.


Ours was a blurry childhood.

Our mother did not believe

in separating the strands of anything—

she threw every kind of utensil

into one empty, unlined


kitchen drawer. Her necklaces

struggled in a level of tangle

she’d never live to undo. We got lost

in the spice cabinet, could never

find the flavors we craved most

and our water would boil over, stain

the black sheen of the stovetop


as our books leaned against each other

in a confusion of genre. Surely

our illustrated Cinderella yearned to pry open

the pages of my mother’s art books

where women spread their legs, refused


to don lingerie. My mother hurled

her apprentices’ unmentionables

into a place that reeked of a forest

before it’s been selected and sliced

by the town’s strongest men.


We idolized her, but questioned

what life was like at other houses

where dinner parties twinkled

as we watched them, barefoot

from the street with our hair matted

into braids from the previous week.


The plates and saucers soared

to each guest like clockwork

as they gripped their forks,

licked their lips and leaned back.


Perhaps every woman in our house

was jealous of each white,

monogrammed linen cloth,

how it rested gently

in the warm lap of a man,

how it got to be lifted

by experienced hands

toward his hungry mouth.


I Told My Mother I Was Attending Church with Anthony Steele

It never occurred to me that anyone would know me like I know myself.


The first time a boy put his tongue between my thighs

was on a wooden picnic table. It was Sunday. Broad daylight. I was


splinterless on his father’s boat as that boy named after metal,

named after taking without someone’s knowledge,


ferried me gorgeously out to an unnamed island he knew would be deserted.

I plunged the steel anchor into the crest of the shore and our bodies broke


away from the boat, leaping into the dunes where we lapped salt water

off each other until we were dry again. We hid behind palm fronds like


the ones laid before Jesus as he rode to his crucifixion. It was exhilarating

to be laid gently on a wooden altar. I turned my head and studied


a circle of gray stones where ash danced, flitted away from where

a fire once roared. Sizzled. I wanted to burn, so I covered my eyes


with my hands to shield the light. I don’t remember either of us praying.


Lauren Berry

Lauren Berry received a BA in Creative Writing from Florida State University and an MFA from the University of Houston where she won the Inprint Verlaine Prize and served as poetry editor for Gulf Coast. From 2009 to 2010, she held the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Agni, Silk Road, The Adroit Journal, Denver Quarterly, and Iron Horse Literary Review. Terrance Hayes selected her first collection, The Lifting Dress (Penguin, 2011), to win the National Poetry Series prize. Her second collection, The Rented Altar, won the C&R Press Award in poetry and will be released in September of 2020. She teaches AP English Literature at YES Prep Public Schools, a charter school that provides college preparatory education to Houston's most underserved communities. Additionally, Lauren leads poetry workshops for local non-profits Inprint and Grackle and Grackle.