The Rhinoceros Calf

Jennifer Givhan

that failed to make a strong bond with its mother
& was shipped from a Florida zoo to New Mexico’s

(they’d struck a deal with the dairy farm for that baby
would drink thousands of gallons of cow’s milk)

that calf in the corner who doesn’t know I’m watching her
or thinking anything at all      & will remember her for years

will think of her often with her sugared substitute her dry
high desert air      & wonder why on the coast

in humidity & hurricane weather in an enclosure
like ours                      
                          & my children sitting beside

me on the bench where I watch   tears down my face    my
children asking why are you crying      mama     & the truth

is I don’t know      did that mother with her body
say nothing     say no      did that mother really just let go

More by Jennifer Givhan

Self-Defense or What I Wish Mama Had Taught Me

              for My Daughter
 

Your body can unzip 

like a boned bodice. 
 

Your body is a knife— 

both slicing point 
 

& handle.  Your body is the diamond 
 

blade arm 

but the bleeding is not yours.  
 

On the ground at your feet 

your body is becoming rocks.  
 

Heat-baked by centuries into basalt,

canyons of you, black-mouthed & sharp-edged. 
 

Lift the largest rock 

of yourself and throw 
 

with all the rocks in your gut.


Ghost the mother of your gut—she birthed you 

for rocks. 


In the ghost story, a woman goes to hell 

for a man who’d unravel her. 


Use the hell

of your body, 


unravel for no one but yourself. 

Karaoke Night at the Asylum

When I was eleven, Mama sang karaoke
at the asylum. For family night, she’d chosen

Billie Holiday, & while she sang, my brother, a
fretted possum, clung

to me near the punch bowl. I remember her
then, already coffin-legged—

mustard grease on her plain dress,
the cattails of her hair thwapping along

with the beat. The balding headstones of the
others—quarantined

from their own mothers & sisters & daughters—
I wondered if they, like us, were strange

alloys of sadness & forgetting
the words to the songs. I was a grave-

digger then. A rat fleeing ship.  Mama,
who hadn’t sung to me since I was a baby &

never would again, was the lynchpin— I’m still
turning & turning the screw.

Warn the Young Ones

First war       She polishes the spine of her own
flesh       Tethered nerve      strangling cord       She

burial mounds       She rituals       She
corn stalks in rustling fields       Nothing tribe

nothing sex       Rock for riverbed       Notched
with flint       Second war       She needs less       Sequoia

burns       Cities       In her body      wrappings
of bodies       She debates running       She debates peeling

skin       She stops debating      begins praying without
knees       Not for rain       Prays rain       Holy nothing

unlaces nothing remembered nothing
forgiven—          Come others       Third war      

She is a void in the particle machine       She is dust     
Fourth war she loses the need for water       She loses

all taste       Rain brings each earthwormed corpse       Nothing
ugly       Turn not       Her face from the dead       She

resurgence       She fable of bee boxes
& honey       She ark of some lost territory

of animals       She zebras       She aardvarks      
She dredges the flooded streets of her      the gutters    

Fifth war       She grows stronger       All that can be
taken she takes       All that can be eaten

she swallows       All that can be broken she
pulls into her belly & releases       Nothing is whole     

Sixth war       She loses her appetite       Her bones brittle     
The cabbage in the broth bitters       She

pulls from ribcages       Hearts       Uses them
as weapons       Seventh war       The cord she began with      

Nothing like a noose       She would rest       Longs for nothing
but rest       Each threaded backbone slips its knot       Nothing

transforms       She wants to tell you this is the end       She wants