Jessie Lynn McMains

x/whatever (a palinode)

this is not the shattered glass
or the milk souring in the sink not
the paint peeling in curls off
the walls or the bathroom’s black
mold this is not the pigeons nesting
on the roof that woke us each day
at dawn this is not the burnt beans
not the raw chicken not the day’s
second pot of coffee or third joint
this is not the filthy stoop where i sat
smoking not the cigarettes i hand
rolled not the forty ounces of beer
i drank this is not my actual vices
or the ones you accused me of not
the sex i always wanted and you
did not not the children we will never
have not the birth control pills or the
morning sickness this is not the
antibiotics or the strep throat not
the panic attacks or the e.r. this is
not the white scars or red scabs on
my arms this is not the eighties pop
songs i sung to annoy you not my
generic punk rock or your wussy
folk tunes this is not the records
i kept or the accordion you took
with you not the ring you never
gave me or the plans i made this
is not the last time i will ever write
about you


La Balada Perdida del Bebé

(after Lucille Clifton)

you weren’t the first or last but you were my
favorite. of all the almost-children I ever rose-hipped
and belladonnaed from my body, or who quietly slid
themselves out, little fish, little clots of blood escaping
down the drain and swimming through the sewers
beneath the city, out into the great lake, out of all
of them you were the one I wanted. I wanted you
and couldn’t keep you, not in a pumpkin shell, not
in an old shoe. if I’d kept you, you would have been
born to a drunk and a lotus-eater, in an apartment
without heat, in a neighborhood that smelled
of laundry-steam and fresh tortillas; the neighbors’
corridos and baladas would’ve been your lullaby. if you’d
been born you would have been my toy accordion, my
novena candle. your eyes would have been opium-
smoke blue. instead you were nothing, a small knot
of cells lasered from me like an ill-advised tattoo. I never
heard the soft tattoo of your heart beating beneath
your tiny chest. instead I walked the train tracks, picked
a pebble to represent your almost-self. I baptized
your never-soul with a splash from my flask of spiced
rum, dug a tiny hole with the toe of my shoe. I sang
a snatch of an old ballad, todo es pena para mí, then
I left you there, cradled in the dirt and weeds. I wanted
you and couldn’t keep you so I kept you there, in that
railyard in Pilsen, Chicago, mí corazon.

Jessie Lynn McMains is a cross-genre writer and small press owner based in SE Wisconsin. Their spoken word album, Self-Portrait with Ghosts and Trains, was released in July 2021 by Hello America Stereo Cassette, and they are serving as the Racine Writer-in-Residence through December 2021. Find more at their website,

1 comment:

  1. Powerful and nearly too personal to read, but way too compelling to stop. Fine work and exactly what poetry at its best can be.


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