Jessica Q. Stark



After the cat is sated and garaged, after the dishes drip on a rack,
after the locks snap, after a swept floor, after ironed shirts and ties,

after dinner separates into Tupperwared tiers, after the
big star dies again in the sky, after Unsolved Mysteries and

my sisters retreating through separate doors. Before I learned to
read, my mother sang nightly from books—the cadence of rising

tones in her tongue charged careless English with music off
the page. I’d listen to her work her way through its drama: the

little girl’s errors hitched to curiosity, her wandering hands, the
way the wolf and the girl had much more in common than not—

both hungry beasts seeking nutrition and love and beauty. Most of
my childhood was a wander, but I don’t know when she turned wolf, what

finally set her off though the woods alone. Yet even as the Huntsman
draws closer for both of us, I can still see Red’s tender slip. I’ve seen

my mother’s walking route and the way she carried my own baby like
a precious parcel from another life. Affection curves even into

her cruelest forms: my head bashed into the car dashboard, the stolen wallets
behind the ice rink’s bleachers, even the shadow beneath her eyes

when she talks about money or big tits or who today is not being grateful.
What are we, but small creatures avoiding new versions of violence?

After the wolf is dead, after the girl and the grandmother are dead, after the wine
is drank, and the basket delivered. After the woods are gone, after the story

is lost or repurposed, after the conditions of departure and the language
are both forgotten. And after my mother is gone, after my sisters are

gone, after I am good and gone, too, may there be a minor figure blooming
at the edge of this dense treatment. May she also skip sounding out words

like circumvent, wander, curtains. Have her eat a belly-full of principles and
stone. Have her gulp the whole house down, while it’s still kicking.

JESSICA Q. STARK is a poet and educator living in Jacksonville, Florida. Her first full-length poetry collection, Savage Pageant, was published by Birds, LLC in March 2020 and was named one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2020” in the Boston Globe and in Hyperallergic. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including INNANET (The Offending Adam, 2021). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in PleiadesPoetry DailyCarolina QuarterlywildnessHobart PulpTupelo QuarterlyGlass Poetry Journal, and others. She serves as a Poetry Editor for AGNI and the Comics Editor for Honey Literary. She teaches writing at the University of North Florida.

Read more by Jessica Q. Stark:

Three poems in The Boiler
One poem in West Trestle Review
One poem in Moist Poetry Journal