Reading Jennifer K. Sweeney

by | Jul 15, 2014 | Reading





In the scoliosis clinic, I waited in a room of skeletons
while men reshaped the architecture of my sister,
spongy discs stacked in S-curves
like haunted seahorses, undulant when I shifted
a protuberance side to side in my thumb
and forefinger and the reticulated whip
rippled to the tailbone.
From the cold gleam of chrome rooms,
girls who were apprenticing to be women
emerged with fallen eyes, torsos fitted
in white plastic bodices like armor.
Cage around cage around echo chamber of heart,
tapered fingers at the hips,
sharp rise of iliac points
directing their sway toward revolving doors.
I stared at the skeletons, at the girls,
at the scooped moon of the pelvis into which
the thighbones fasten like sanded doorknobs.



At 22, I accepted a job teaching junior high.
Not far enough away from the hollow years
of my own shifting body, the seventh and eighth-grade girls,
slight and doe-sprung, drifted down wide industrial
hallways, bones jutting sideways from their skin.
One girl chose my second-story classroom
from where we’d see her fall past the window,
gathered below for the after-school meeting.
She pulled back my chair, tucked her backpack
neatly under my metal desk,
opened the window and let go.
Below, a flash of brown hair, slim form like a sail,
then an anchor, heavy in the grass.
Her silhouette shuddered as we ran.
Don’t move! we shouted, but she was already
standing up, walking away into dusk,
not a bone out of place, walking
like a girl who’s thrown her body
to the wolves and comes back whole.




This is a capsized game
and there is no display of aces at the end.
Buy a rare and expensive plant that never blooms.
Rearrange your books by the color of the spines.
Bury all your keys that don’t unlock anything.
These are not rules but merely suggestions
of what has worked for others.
For instance, the man who painted landscapes
on his daughter’s sheet music.
Put a big rock on your desk.
Do not name the rock.
Take the numbers off the clock and mail them
to your creditors.
Stitch the hours onto a kite.
Every night, ask until you can hear what replies.




It was theatrical once,
the arrivals and departures,
cathedral ceilings, opera windows
and burgundy velvet couches.
At 3 A.M. a bent-back man
crawls out from the dark with a skeleton key
to unlock Erie Central Station
and the people, a handful each night,
emerge from snow drifts,
their facades stiff with wakefulness,
but otherwise languid as flashbacks.
Against the peeling walls the businessmen
lean like a pack of trench coat angels,
and under the unlit chandelier,
two college girls who’ve nowhere to go.
I’d like to think every night contains a fissure
where a couple of strangers are cast
in the grand light of an approaching train,
not the station where the train stops
but the station where the station stops,
and they choose something for which
they are completely unprepared.




all from Jennifer K. Sweeney’s How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press, 2009)