Cecil Hemley Memorial Award - 2015
The People Who Feel No Pain
I let our daughter read a news story about one who walked months
on a broken pelvis before she noticed it
crunching inside her like dry leaves.
I can hear L. now
practicing in the kitchen, holding her hands
under water hot as she can
stand it, singing softly: I don't care I don't care I don't care.
When asked to define happiness half the room will
describe a quality of light, the sky required to feel right.
For a while we tried shooting the wolves from above,
the removal of
each possible attack before it happened,
but soon enough deer forgot what they were,
grew fearless and gnawed
all the aspen sprouts clean to the ground.
Last night a man paused on the ridge of my hip
and stayed there, not breathing, making me ask
for his mouth.
The other half of the room recalls learning something
about where to build the fire
so it doesn't fill the cave with smoke.
Down in the city park someone has already tagged which trees get to stay,
and some night our daughter will want nothing more
than another's teeth in her back.
In the far city, in a torn booth, long after last call she is
saying I really like your politics,
meaning I want to lick your face.
Little girl, little wolf.
The blade of the earthmover, how it
scrapes and shudders, shudders and scrapes.
Rachel Zucker on Jenny Browne
"The People Who Feel No Pain" is a delightfully strange poem: seductive but not coy in its disclosures. Disparate elements—pain, motherhood, happiness, wolves, trees, female sexuality, human beings attempting to control the uncontrollable—connect, lighting up like a neural net. Happily, there are no one-to-one correspondences, no one simple allegory with a final destination. The reader wanders through the poem, feeling a little rush of pleasure at each bundle of condensed language, a sudden inspiration of breath in the synapses between lines and stanzas, between one clearly drawn image and the next. These inhalations in the white spaces and mysterious gaps keep the poem aloft. It was a real pleasure, not a simple one, spending time inside this poem.