Jessica Cuello

Goodnight, Irene

The town was not a cradle.
The town wasn’t bent on love.

We ran beneath the willow’s narrow
leaves. We swung until her sister

called us home. He sang of what
he took. The town nursed hurt.

I was born in the hospital
where she worked. I was born

and left. She was younger
and she stayed. Our lake

had a bottom
they couldn’t find.

Irene, Sometimes
I get a good notion
to jump in the river and drown.
Her regulars, the indigent,

came to the funeral.
One man paid respects

and bags of empty cans
hung from his wrists.

He looked for her
in her brother’s face. The boy

accompanied by an aid
loved her—his nurse—

and banged his head
against the coffin

for her voice that said his name.
It wasn’t my home anymore.
Irene, Goodnight.
While walking from the station

a stranger overheard
her words: Don’t do it.

He told the news.
It was Sunday morning

on Exchange Street.
She was 34, a winter birth.

Strangers in the deli said,
Well, that’s what happens when.

And maybe some of our family
thought this too, the ones

who didn’t come. She worked
in the ER like her mom,

emptying bedpans, drawing blood.
The willows by the lake

were white and thin not green
and the gun was none of that.

Her colleagues worked to save her.
They had to wait to cry.
She didn’t die right away,
not then, but he did.

People were in the street
buying newspapers, buying milk.
Don’t to the man who threw
her against the wall

who threw her to the ground.
I’ll see you in my dreams.
We looked at her

in photos on a board.
She was a child and her father said
Put up the photos
when she was a woman

in pale blue scrubs, arms
around her sons and daughter,

blanket under the wall of branches,
grass in their sand bucket

repeating Don’t Don’t. Not his.
Irene, goodnight.

One time in Salvation Army
the clerk searched me

for a necklace.
I was innocent.

She lifted my skirt,
my shirt. Irene wasn’t born yet.

The town was constant.
We didn’t recite.

We heard the songs
and thought they were justice.



Imaginary Saint

I collect relics after rain:
the polished bone of bird,
the rag of leaf.

From these I might
construct a boy.
That’s closer to prayer

than the woman at home
who kneels before
our bright blue screen

and is afraid of touch.
I summon the face
of a saint-like boy.

I hung my body
out the bus window.
I was a pilgrim.

I watched him
walk from sight.
Breath against breath,

is that love—the sideswipe
in the hall, a hundred bodies

I sway with my fingers
on the bone
and leafskin.

The boy says please.
Please I say back
and imagine his hands.


At the Metal Playground

My aunt took out               her soda and cigarette
She shooed us away         We went to see
the dead animal near the sour apples

We bit and tossed the fruit
We were shooed away         We put the sour flesh
into our mouths            breaking skin

We bit and tossed the fruit          without taking it in
No one asked what killed            We knew what
broke skin       Knew what made the same spot

bloody twice     No one asked what killed
A dog was tied up at the fence      Bloody
in the same spot twice        He barked

and the scar behind my knee pulled tight
We spun on the hot, textured iron
of the merry-go-round            At my scar

the skin pulled tight           Someone’s head
banged against the metal           We spun
on the hot, textured iron             unafraid of the dead

but not of wounds            Heads banged on metal
near the dead animal and the sour apples
and I knew I would be bit again

Jessica Cuello is the author of Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016) and Hunt (The Word Works, 2017). She has been awarded The 2017 CNY Book Award (for Pricking), The 2016 Washington Prize (for Hunt), The New Letters Poetry Prize, a Saltonstall Fellowship, and most recently, The New Ohio Review Poetry Prize. Her newest poems are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Copper Nickel, Cave Wall, Pleiades, Crab Creek Review, and Barrow Street.

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