Six Poems by Jen Karetnick


Massage Sonnet

At Mandara Spa, Aruba Marriott, remembering Deborah Digges

Offer yourself in the way of a child,
splayed and unconcerned about the curl
of a limb, the arrangement of towel
revealing the shell of shy genital.
The hands that wave and recede deal with parts,
oiling rusty mechanisms. Submit.
Allow your mouth to drool. Show all your warts.
This is the hour your best poems will visit,
and your worst. Later, you can only rescue
so many words but some will be enough
to compensate for this half-conscious theft.
Do only what you have been told to do:
Relax your arm; roll over; focus your breath.
So much, or so little, time might be left.


The Opposite of Mecca

Oh, the darkness of it all—black cat, black dog,
black monkey on the black-eyed woman’s shoulder,

rocking on a boat dock over water so absent of light
even our dreams have lost their shadows. In this house

made of books and planks, under the art of thatch
and weave, we are birds nesting together who have closed

our throats to song. This is where, without definition, we pin
the horizon as the center on a map of our always new world.


ICU Prose Cento

Even now, when skin is not alone, it remembers being alone, the dignity of being, alive for a short time in a very different way, the sickly thing asserting its will only now at the end, loitering in the morning chill, faking a French accent, the echo calling a fossil back to name.

My horse, my hound, what will I do when you are fallen? Chances are, the answer’s missing too. The window’s closed. The wind through my heart blows all my candles out. I do not write of riches: I have none. I am not lonely for the palpable world. Wouldn’t it be wrong not to mention joy?

Sources: Naomi Shihab Nye, Linda Gregg, Jennifer K. Sweeney, Dobby Gibson, Philip Levine, J. Michael Martinez, May Swenson, Marilyn Hacker, Deborah Digges, Joachim du Bellay, Reginald Shepherd, Jim Moore



They come and go like husbands, want to
             take me

to dinner, sleep with me, wake me

with the butterfly print of two hands and
             all rude fingers

flashing toward my ribs, palms
             pressed inwards

into the dough next to my spine.
             Smack them,

scratch them or leave them alone,
             fight or flight,

it makes no difference; I can’t beat
             this perverse

art, pervasive yeast filling and

Even worse than my shadow,
             they bring me

everywhere in darkness and in light,
             to waiting rooms

and outdated issues of Us, to diaries

daily intakes and to special diets that do as
             much good

as restraining orders, to laboratories and pharmacies
             and bottles

with caps as elusive as thoughts and car keys
             found in refrigerators,

to truth and to lies, to hesitant insight and

guesswork, but never to reason, conclusion,

like the sip of water or drop of pity,
             long denied,

the respite every chronic refugee of self is
             thirsting for.


My Husband Shoots Me

with Botox, 31 times
in my forehead, the shallow dish
of my temples, the nape of my neck
where as a younger man
he’d touch his tongue,
a fencer’s foil.

He does not hold
the syringe like a love letter
or wield it like an apology
although he says a quiet
“I’m sorry” every time
the needle pierces

the cartilage under skin
with an audible crunch;
fat, a loosely guarded prisoner,
has long since escaped my face,
muscles pulled tight
from migraine after migraine.

I follow his directions
to look up, down, wrinkle
my forehead like a chow
so that he can measure
where the nerves are,
avoid making my eyelids

droop more than they
already do. He assures me
the puncture marks will fade,
the medicine diffuse, block
the transfer of pain, lengthen
the staccato of light.

Three decades ago,
he practiced tapping my joints
as if they were ice
with a rubber hammer,
thumped my ribs, dug
under bone for my organs

and lymph nodes. Now I reap
expertise, fanned by
his trajectory as he wasps
around me, and I wait, still
within this vortex, to be stung,
and stung, and stung.


To a Jewish Casket

The body inside you brings nothing but itself,
simply dressed, face up as if in repose, hands

uncurled to show they take nothing from this world.
Together, you will give back to the earth

when it thaws, pause when it freezes, then resume.
One day, a long time from now, not even a handle

will be left behind to hold you. Only bare bones,
stripped of grudge, cradled like seeds of the conversation

I have long since been denied.

Miami-based poet, writer and educator Jen Karetnick is the author/co-author of 15 books, including American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publications, May 2016) and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016). Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in, Guernica, Negative Capability, Prairie Schooner and Spillway. She works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter School and as a freelance dining critic, lifestyle journalist and cookbook author.

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