Published on Academy of American Poets (


This is how clay becomes flesh: dirt and grit
clumping with saliva, bits of sand wedged

between gum and tooth. In my mother’s mouth:
her palate alive with humus: a crush

of chalk threading down her throat: and somewhere
deep within her gut: a Galatea,

milk white, translucent: a creature she’ll bring
together from pulverized stone. She’s sure

all desire begins with me: my unborn,
indiscriminate taste, my unwieldy

appetite for handfuls of ash and soil:
and when I’m born, though she gives me a name

plain and utile as toothpaste, she insists
on calling me Magpie: and how she’s right:

when I’m first caught filling my cavernous
maw with paint chips, plaster, coffee grounds pulled

from the trash, my father reassures her:
this is the work of all infants: to hold

the world inside them, piece by piece: to turn
each sliver about on the tongue: a shape

in a tangram: a code the child’s mouth cracks.
But when my mother finds me, years later:

a toddler, plucking flies from the window:
the curse slithers out of her: freak: as though

she’s never enjoyed this comfort: as though
she doesn’t remember reaching for more.


From The Body is No Machine by Jennifer Perrine. Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Perrine. Reprinted with permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose.


Jennifer Perrine

Jennifer Perrine earned a BA in religion, culture, and the creative arts from Susquehanna University in 2000, an MA in English from Bucknell University in 2002, and a PhD in English from Florida State University in 2006.

Perrine is the author of four collections of poetry: Again (Airlie Press, 2020); No Confession, No Mass (University of Nebraska Press, 2015), which received the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, the Bisexual Book Award for Poetry, and the Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Award; In the Human Zoo (University of Utah Press, 2011), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize; and The Body is No Machine (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2007), which was selected as the winner of the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry. They have also contributed work to numerous anthologies, including Political Punch: The Poetics of Identity (Sundress Publications, 2016), edited by Fox Frazier-Foley and Erin Elizabeth Smith.

Perrine has won various literary prizes and fellowships, including those from the Vermont Studio Center, U.S. Poets in Mexico, Writers at Work, and the Fine Arts Work Center. In 2019, they won the Oregon Poetry Community Fellowship. 

Perrine has taught at Luzerne County Community College, Florida State University, and Drake University. In addition to writing, they currently co-host Incite: Queer Writers Read, as well as teaching writing classes to high school students, people who are incarcerated, military veterans and their families, LGBTQIA+ affinity groups, health care workers, and general audiences. 

Perrine currently lives in Portland, Oregon. 

Date Published: 2007-01-01

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