Poetry/Creative non-fiction/fiction

Ars Poetica: “To Write A Poem” September 1, 2013

Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 3:38 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“To write a poem,”

you become an axis mundi for the middle class blues – for the steady job your dad lost five years ago, and for your first embrace with the ocean, how you imagined its water like hands connecting you to every place at once, for your mother who snuck stacks of folded laundry into your room while you slept and gently placed them into your drawers, for the last time you locked eyes with a deer in Cache Valley and a shiver wound up your spine. It stood still as stone in the middle of a frozen street, breath pushed like exhaust from its black nose.

For the yellow primroses that shook open in mid-June when you were eight, for the seconds you spent watching them peel open with nothing on your mind. Because when you watched the father in Gaza kiss his son’s forehead beside his rubble bombed home, you saw your brother’s hands, how they cradle your nephew, rocking in the same motion.

For the snap of dying leaves up the Crimson Trail early autumn, for the hum of plastic space heaters in winter, and for the birthday cards your grandmother sent with five bucks tucked inside. Because one Christmas, a box was left on your doorstep: a black sweater for you, lip-gloss, a brown belt for your brother, a pair of jeans, cans of corn, green beans, kidney beans, instant potatoes, a chocolate cake mix, and a loaf of bread.

For your first kiss at sixteen in a driveway, for discovering how wet mouths are, for the electric buzz of running a finger across a lover’s lower lip, for losing your virginity after too much vodka on a mattress on an unfamiliar floor, for feeling regret, for looking in a mirror and seeing your mother’s smile, for the last time your grandpa bounced you on his knee in Victor, Idaho and sang “Pony Girl,” and tickled you until he reached your “bullet-hole” below your right rib.

For only sleeping with blankets made by people you know, for throwing strips of toilet paper into the riverbed past midnight and knowing it was wrong – the white paper falling like bodies into the black water. For wanting to be wanted, for wanting to run away to Europe, for getting a passport, for leaving where you are from, for swimming in the ocean even though sharks have real teeth.

For playing school in your garage with National Geographics and a green chalk board, for kissing your childhood dog, for rocking the orange-striped kitten runt and humming to her until she died, for burying animals in your horse field, for forgetting the date, for spending New Year’s Eve playing Risk with your brother.

For never jogging past an animal without whispering hello, for picking Indian Paint Brush in the Teton Valley and placing them in paper cups, for running while the sun rises, for sleeping in the farm house your great grandpa built below Oxford peaks, for waking to your grandmother’s voice chanting “good morning, good morning” and feeding you homemade bread and oatmeal.

For finding mice in a bag of oats, for sneaking cheese to a neighbor cat, for your pet hen that ran away, for your dead albino rabbit and the black lab stuck in his cage, for knowing loss, for meeting someone who you already feel you know, for shaking hands, for the first letter addressed to you, for watching rows of alfalfa and potatoes bend into a circle when you drive past, for a field of wheat rendered burnt-orange in a sunsets mouth, for the “perfect” shell you found at Dillon Beach. Because words aren’t enough, because the first time you wrote a poem you cried. 


Dreaming a Mother to Life December 12, 2012

Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 7:16 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Once I dreamt a child in a striped shirt was left on my doorstep.

I cradled her all night, swayed in the brown recliner you


folded laundry in, while I slept upstairs.

Her body warm in my arms, head carved against my chest,


her dark hair a curly bob sliced straight at her chin. Like

my hair at six. The scent of ammonia after two perms- our hair

only different in color.


It is the only place I see you beyond gray stone. Beyond an engraved

name, the outline gone black with time- a repeated


dream. Your body wrapped in a green nightgown, the soft creek of

a swaying chair, the stroke of hands soothing fabric still hot with

dryer’s breath.



Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 7:14 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Winter mornings are silent- noises smothered liked packed snow.

I stay wrapped up in bed long after I wake.

I dream of retraced kisses from the nook of your ear down to your collarbone.


My pulsing heart a mountain stream, a soft hum of water spilling over moss topped rocks.

Our breath puffs like glowing smoke under a full moon. You unbutton your coat

and pull my hands inside. I feel your skin breathe beneath a tight t-shirt.


You kiss my mouth, sucking my bottom lip until you’re sitting on the

hood of my car. The metal is like ice. A thin layer of frost hugs the back window.

I imagine never getting up. Spending the entire day under five blankets.


Never waking to the reality of what went cold between us. Of the weight that comes

from not knowing how to kill a dead thing.


The pounds it stacks onto our tight smiles.


My right hand curled rigid atop my pillow, below my cheek. You stay asleep like stone.

Your naked body only heat beside my own.


Your arms tie around me, eyes still shut. I drop my head to your chest and strain to

read heartbeats stuck snug under the cotton of my limp quilt.




The Jump: Fire and Water July 29, 2012

Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 9:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,


The desert is ablaze. Fine sand fire’s tips.

Lake Powell the blue root- alluring. Most

beautiful. Swiveled red rock soaked with

calcium carbonate. White rings of eternity

striped across rock faces. Then us.


Our glides between sweat beaten canyons,

your whisper “I feel small out here.” In

that North Carolina accent you attempt to

“enunciate” away. Burn and bury back in

the south. And forget, except to pause on

whether your parents who sent first aid kits,

flashlights, bug repellent and food still smile.


Erect on Crappie’s ledge, noon sun traces where

my hands drip at night. Over your shaven head, spills

onto your bare tattooed chest. You spring off, dive

head first into deep blue. I flick sand with my feet

that swirls like flecks of gold then sinks, I follow.

splash into the fire of newness that consumes- leaves

one whole.


Elephant and Sunset Mural April 30, 2012

Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 2:21 am
Tags: , , ,

A Haiku for Jay


Her eyes are the voice.

Red sun. Blue sky. Standing still.

A mother, grown old.


Mother Maus and Father Maus: A thought on Maus I and Challah April 26, 2012

Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 11:24 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

For Art Spiegelman

Schadenfreude: Joy derived from the misfortunes of others or in destruction.


No matter how you tie it. The mask is a mouse.

The smelling, digging, scavenging kind. The kind

that survive. Or the kind that make it through with-

out breathing.



Have you ever liked your own breath, mommy?

Fur all gray and knotted up. Plucked from home,

tossed into a flame of Schadenfreude meant only

for us. The fences, stars, guns, starvation,




When you survived, were you happy?


When the three strands are sewn together, like

thread pulled through the eye of a needle.

Then twisted, first over the top, next underneath,

then back over and pinched. The single piece is




Like manna, from heavens mouth. Every individual

one Challah. One purpose, one heritage, one grief.

When one is missing, all of it is.



Did you cry when you cut your wrists, mommy?


Did it hurt to bleed out your pain in a tub down

the hall from my room? The porcelain stained in

red circles, like the spirals in fences. A signal to

stop, a guardrail you built and crossed.



 They thought it was me. At the funeral I heard

them. Whispers in squeaks about my illness, your

illness, our illness. I’m caught inside a trap. You

set it, mommy. Coaxed me in with bate I couldn’t




Is it all your fault? Is it mine?


It was your love. Or that’s how dad sees it.

He still weeps for you.  That was your plan. The

final solution. Weave a man so deep then set him

loose.  Alone, without a woman, wife, or friend.

Without you.



I don’t understand. You have lived with rats before.

You let dad convince you they were mice. When did

his voice stop speaking? When did your eyes stop seeing,

and you decided you were done?



He burnt your journals all up. The ones you wrote for

me. When I asked him why, he said they had too many




He murdered your voice. I can’t remember what you

sound like. Maybe, like a meow? A strained drawn out

yowl of a meow. A cry for help.



Did you ever read me your life when I was young?

Let the pauses between lines slide into my ears like

dough? Ever tell me what it was like to hide? The numb-

ness it takes to squeeze into holes. And stay there.



Did I tell you I don’t believe it? None of it. Not the

manna or the curls or the candles. It’s been terminated.



Did you believe?


I called him a murderer. Your husband, not the poison

that choked Richieu, or the men who took your mom

and dad. He let the torch take the only part of you

you gave. Paper. Words, like the rest of them.



Are you with God now?


Do you not cry anymore, mommy? The way dad said

you did when you went to The Sanitarium. Echoes that

scream from within the soft gooey center but stay out

of sight.



But that is where we touch, can’t you see it mommy?

Those are the parts where we bleed into each other.

Burn off the water and grow firm.



Why didn’t you feel it when we tried to braid your worries

into our own?


Permanence March 26, 2012

Filed under: Poetry — jessicacolleenmcdermott @ 5:09 am
Tags: , , , ,

Anitya:  impermanence, a belief that to understand reality and relieve suffering one must accept that everything is in a constant state of change.


In a damp parking lot again, your bare arms touch mine.

You take me inside, give me your bed to sleep in.

I have a dream you are beside me. You, on the

couch in the next room.


My love, like melting dew or retreating tides. We have

changed. I am not nineteen in your red sweatshirt. You

are not asking me to move to Seattle. But, why do the

songs I sent you  every day for five months still sing you

to sleep?


Where are we now?

Not the beaches or the Best Western or the parking lots, but now?


Please understand that I will never be that girl on the beach

again, but I will be me. And I have felt your breath drape along

my neck on  Oregon mornings and traced kisses from your blue

eyes to your mouth that pressed permanently into my skin.


Rain turns to snow to ice to steam, but all is water. All

has been us. Us clasping and releasing. Us extending

then retreating. Us apart, but always feeling.

You telling me, I’ll see you again.