Stephanie Porven – Four Poems
When you return home from your first year in college
to your mother reading Codependent No More
and your father booking flights to Columbia,
you realize someone has to be Suzy Homemaker,
or your brothers might starve once the cereal’s out.
Someone has to be Mr. Fix It and spackle the hole in the wall,
or Daddy longlegs will keep finding their way onto beds.
So here I am, tip toes perched on a rickety ladder,
unscrewing the front porch lightbulb that’s been a dud for years,
convinced that I have no choice but to be both.
It crushes in my grip, slices my index finger, and I spit out
shards thin as fingernail whites that fall onto my lips.
My finger’s dripping red, so I wrap it in my t-shirt until it stops;
unintentionally give my neighbor’s son an eyeful of cleavage
as I pass by them, nod, and head back inside the garage.
I toss open the washer, but stop mid-reach for detergent
when I notice it under the shelf: the hiking stick
my father made for me in Georgia, July 2000.
I grasp the handle of pink and purple ribbon,
stroke butterfly beads that dangle from it in eternal flight.
It brought back a summer of vanilla pecan fudge and waterfalls,
though its whittling nearly cost him his thumb.
I remember Mom’s scream, his blood dotting the cabin floor,
but today he tells the story with a light heart: That wasn’t going to kill me,
but your mother speeding down that mountain to the hospital could’ve.
The scar’s still there, but I don’t recognize who wears it anymore.
He said, I can’t turn the feelings I have for your mom on and off like a light.
I let the memory sink with my shirt into a swirl of bubbles, and think,
Fireflies know nothing of love, of their place in a world
where they’re imprisoned by children eager to see them shine,
but night can’t keep them from glowing across meadows.
Here, Beneath the Stairs
You are unashamed in this dry October air,
red-faced and pleading Don’t give up on us
while neighbors emerge from their apartments,
lock their doors softly enough for their ears
to harvest the words you sputter.
Remember when we parked by the tattered
big-top tent in that deserted circus lot? We glowed
beneath a super moon; a sign from your zodiac
for you to lean over, merge the gap between us.
This was before you shared my resentment
toward bursts of scalding water from the showerhead,
shrill beeps from the broken smoke alarm
every twelve hours (even with the battery removed),
and nightly whimpers from the pit bull upstairs.
Remember that overcast beach day last spring?
The wind swept my wet hair into knots.
You held my hand as we walked along where high tide
met the shore, navigated past deflated jellyfish,
nematocysts which littered the sand like land mines.
We have always walked this way, and you
have always worried about taking missteps.
Now, I have eternity to wonder if it was comfort
or fear of stagnancy that convinced you to invite her
into your life, my home, our bed.
Here, beneath the stairs, it feels like returning
to that same shore with no one
to squeeze my palm, stop my bare feet
from resting on a withered, clear blue carcass.
A man in washed-out overalls hums to the drill
of a machine sculpting jagged metal edges
inside his workshop of pure sunlight.
He looks through plastic goggles while
carving saw tooth patterns from nickel sheets
that fleck, fall, clink against linoleum floor
when I yell, “Peter gave me the wrong key!”
In life, I lied often and well, refused to forgive for years,
made love without a ring ever gracing my finger and relished
in the ecstasy of heaving breath on sweaty sheets on Sundays
an hour before sitting in a pew to beg for mercy.
I belong with shadows that linger behind the gray door,
but its lock would not open with the turn of my glinting key.
So I slam it on the table. Call it a mistake. Wait for a new cut.
He props the goggles on his forehead.
Asks, “My child, why do you refuse paradise?”
before pressing the key back into my palm,
telling me to try the golden door instead.
His eyes become looking glasses, shimmering like marble,
and in them I experience it all:
Butterflies shattering chrysalises and stretching crinkled wings,
Mom rubbing Royal Violets on the nape of my neck,
Christmas day popovers with Romanoff sauce on my tongue.
I am on some remote beach in Greece, lying beneath
the shade of towers built from books, eating ceviche and
waving at family members barbecuing on a boat offshore.
There are limbo competitions and glasses of Sangria, and
as the sun goes down, I will sleep with salt air in my lungs,
feel lips kiss my temple while the last flame in the
bonfire sings of how grace knows no bounds in this kingdom.
for Jordan Blackwood
“Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.”
– Psalm 22:10
When I floated inside the shadow-womb
of she who carried me, but would not keep me,
God told me stories about the woman
who would become my mother.
He said she smells like coconut oil
Used to wipe the makeup from her eyes;
that she spends afternoons pruning ivy
growing beside a candy-apple red front door.
Her house will become my home, and in the room
with blue trains chugging along its walls,
she’ll applaud at every pillow fort I build
and history book I read, smile at each penny
I drop into a Goofy piggy bank and say,
You keep saving like that, hun,
and one day you’ll find yourself
standing in Charleston, right in front
of that big ol’ pineapple fountain
and all that history you love so much.
He said her voice is tender, like the heart that flutters
at the sound of a choir in perfect crescendo. I dream
of hearing it, breathing it in like my liquid existence,
but the day I am born, air will inflate my lungs and I’ll forget
God’s words and how they’ll unfold in our lives.
Years later, I’ll lean against a pew and believe
that if my mother had never chosen me as her son,
I would’ve searched for Him in the blood song of mosquitoes
that drift above murky waters, waded knee-deep in marshes
like a soldier begging to know
Who is the faceless woman sweeping dried flower petals in my dreams?
Who am I, and have you forgotten me?
Author’s Statement on Beauty
During one of my last undergraduate poetry workshops at Florida State University, a former professor of mine said, “If you’re going to have a butterfly in your poem, then it sure as hell better be on a trash can.”
Since then, I have shared his words with my students and peers because I believe that true beauty can be found in contrast. Consider the stars which illuminate the dark night sky, fields which must be burned in order to nourish crops, and the fact that there is no person in this world with a body that is perfectly symmetrical: one toe might be longer than others, a freckle might only be present on one hand.
Perfect symmetry, although a concept that has been traditionally revered as a characteristic of god-like beauty, does not quite feel real to us as human beings. I believe that this is why artists—painters, dancers, musicians, and writers alike—have experimented with the power of juxtaposition as manifested through imagery, sound, and movement in their work; they want to help readers find pleasure in flaws rather than in unrealistic notions of perfection. In my own poems, I strive to unearth such contrasts which I believe are nestled somewhere in the stories they are breathing out into the world.
Stephanie Porven is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Central Florida. She has a passionate love for dogs, HGTV, and strong coffee any way you serve it. If all of her best laid plans to pursue the writing life don’t work out, she could always just become a mermaid. Her work has appeared in Hypertrophic Literary, The Hamilton Stone Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and other online literary magazines.