Sierra Lindsay


Dad kills a rattlesnake with a pitchfork and turns
its bloody mouth inside out to show fangs. Some kind
of warning. Watch where you step—all the prickly
places to put a body. Boy moves his body
like he is all spine and teeth, nesting

in my clavicle and biting. He’s a restless hot
skin. Back in Arizona, I goaded my roommate’s cat
with an outstretched hand until she crawled on her belly
to press my fingers into her sharp cat jaw. Boy
sucks my fingers. Bites down on my knuckles. Writhes

when he’s fucking me. I claw my fingers
into his thighs and think rock, steel, horses.
Horses running for miles going foamy
at the mouth. Horses and their sinew, rippling
skin and sheathed muscle damp and heaving

but he is light on his feet like he’s toeing the ground
the way a goat lets its hoof trace a water’s surface
before deciding it shallow. He’s off-balance
spinning in the pink light of my room, catching
his weight on my chest like an animal

forgetting what is underneath it. When my dogs
shared one tight circle of a bed, the bigger one would lean
heavier and heavier onto the back legs of the smaller
until flurry of yelp and teeth. Boy opens
my mouth. When his pockets spill change

onto my floor, the metal on wood rattles. I think
about the snake and scales burst inward, how it might
have twisted, a long sinew of bone coming
in two—the thunk of metal on a body

still living. Boy lowers my face to the pillow
the way he might have urged a blind pup
to the leaking teat of its mother and I go dark
and flush and quiet. See, Dad says, this could

have been you, holding both the pitchfork
and the snake. Who’s to say how long
it rotted there, how long for sun to open
to bone and bleach the skeleton.

I’m No Persephone

& the man who cared for me
this year with my head on his thigh was no Hades
& sure I’ve once considered New York City hell
riding the 4 train to Bowling Green so Natalya
can once again put a speculum between my thighs
& forbidden fruit is a terrible cliche but there’s something
reverent in it—something about the desire to taste
& the punishment after, the thrill of darkness, the wet
heat of a bite. I stand at the kitchen counter
& peel apart the thick skin of a pomegranate, press
down to rain glistening seeds into porcelain
& my tattoo artist, carving the outline of the fruit
into my hip tells me I have great skin
& eases the sting of having to check “bloodborne pathogen”
on her consent form. I never knew that pomegranates
grew on branches, only imagined them sprouting up
& globed fully ripe from soft dirt. Forgetting growth
as a process, I cleave seed from skin—greedy for
the burst of sweet juice, a reward for being impatient
& in swallowing, Persephone forgot her mother,
Demeter, who starved her bones outside of her skin
& asked Persephone, when she came out blinking
into the sunlight, do I look too skinny? I’m almost
smaller than you. My tattoo artist finishes
& tells me to shield my thigh from bodily fluids.
We both laugh. I crush a seed to the roof of
my mouth. I swallow.

Devout / Devour

Those things you          cannot touch:
corn husk          raw wire          earth
freshly turned.
          Mothers speak of witchery as being what
we reach for.          Mary Louise
          the rusted nail
                    Martha           the shovel           split
down the handle. You                     the body
with a snake jaw           the wet mouth
on you in all        manner of consumption.
          You have seen a man kissed by flame
and cleansed by summer rain           bruised
your knee with prayer for he has made you
                    compact.           He is no broken
nail or shovel      but what the nail
holds           what the shovel spills           fights
in his sleep           bloodies your nose &
means it for that which chases him:
untamed horse           hunting rifle
the devil           has many ways of devouring
                    a body.           Your mother
asks where you last           saw God’s light.
In my hands           you answer           In the sheared
husks           In the broken wire          In my wanting      mouth

The Line Between

Author’s Note

My poetry—and, truly, my writing at large—can often be broken down into three points of focus: consumption, name, body. I have been considering what it means for the body to be a place and a home, not mutually exclusive, but in some ways must be, for where else do we live except tied up in our bodies? In the sexual relationship we chart through three of the poems, the body is shared, the naming shared, the two becoming somewhat melded and amorphous in that sharing. The other two poems, while less directly related, still grapple with the ideas of being named, of consuming what might be forbidden or desired, and of the conflict of inhabiting a body that can be taken and owned by someone else. What name do we have other than the one that was given, or the one that others put on us? I’m questioning ownership. I’m looking at my body as something that is mine but also belongs to others that have had it—as a body that belongs to my lovers, and a body that belongs to my parents, just as my name does.

This scope is widest and embodies a distant persona in “Devout / Devour,” but in that poem the speaker describes “witchcraft” as being what “we reach for” — something that is not yet owned, something that is desired, something that is forbidden, which is in this case the body she invites “on her” in “all manner of consumption.” To be consumed, in this narrative, is to sin, to turn your back on godliness, to be accused of witchcraft, and I think that is where so much of my process lies: in considering sexual freedom and agency in conflict with how that power can be turned against a body. What violence do we ask for? What do we invite? What can be expected by default of our identity?

Sex is, of course, a predominant theme throughout this series of poems, mainly for the complex entwinement of vulnerability, power, desire, violence, and pleasure that occurs in the sexual encounters of the speaker of “Bestiary” and “The Line Between.” This speaker perceives the body as being shared during sex—who, then, is holding power? And how easily can the grip of that power be loosened or adjusted? We see a relationship through a narrow scope, but it is this scope that is most urgent to this speaker, as they struggle to identify their partner and their intentions through sex. Sex is the prevailing urgency here, but my poems all typically feel urgent to me—their speakers are considering and asking questions and reflecting and searching. There are always questions, questions that don’t have answers, questions whose answers are better left hidden, questions about self and identity and power. Who are we to ourselves? And is it the same as who we are to others that orbit around us?

As a fiction writer—I wrote an undergraduate fiction thesis at the University of Arizona and am currently emphasizing in fiction at my MFA at Adelphi University—poetry has been a practice of narrowing scopes and isolating images, building narratives in smaller and more taut spaces. My chapbook in the works, Boy, from which three of these poems are pulled, is an exercise in plot and narrative that flashes through my own lived experiences with men but also builds story and resonance around moments that are embellished or characters who are personas rather than real people. It’s thrilling and at times daunting to undergo similar processes in plot and characterization in poetic form, but I also admire the freedom poetry gives me to manipulate line break, white space, imagery, rhythm, and wordplay in order to tell a story—and ask questions, always, asking questions—in its truest form.

Sierra Rose Lindsay is an MFA candidate in fiction at Adelphi University whose current work explores the conditions of girlhood, female sexuality, and society’s invitation of violence upon the body. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Bad Pony Magazine and Pretty Owl Poetry. You can find Sierra in Brooklyn, NY on her third-floor rooftop, stocking produce at her local Trader Joe’s, or on Twitter @sierra__lindsay.