Four poems by Jeanann Verlee

Gunslinger After the Psych Ward

She cooks alone at the stove in underwear.
The water is cold again. Now hot.
She wants to drown in a tubful of milk.
Wants a bottle of champagne and a thimble
from which to drink. She wants the forks
to rise up like a readied battalion.
She sips tea and paints her toenails.
The children she pretends live here
wail in the other room. She’s grown accustomed.
Her grandmother’s painting is a night scene,
ominous cobble way in Venice. She tries
to climb inside, but the canvas bends and bends.
She steps into a novel, then another.
Paints her toenails again, outside the lines.
She wants her hair like the magazines.
Wants a love to love. Wants to eat dangerous
foods and teach herself Jordan’s dunk.
She’s crafted a porcelain face. Wears it
to the midnight shows, the bars afterward.
Always smiling, hard and cold.
She wants a dog to call her mama.
A man to make of her a home. She wants
whiskey to taste more like solution, and wine
to last ‘til morning. She wants to dance.
To dance. To hipshake the brick from the walls.
Wants the pills to stop calling her name.


Ritual 3:06

Her body flinches in the sheets.
Again. 3:06 AM. Every day.
She ambles to the kitchen,
wakes the rolling pin from its sleep.
Smooths its sanded wood, rotates the barrel,
grips it like the club it could have been. Swings.
3:09 AM. She strokes the handle of each blade
in the cutlery set. Pulls the chef’s knife from its cradle,
yellow gleam reflecting the burn of a streetlamp outside.
Slides its dull edge across her forearm,
jabs a phantom undercut. Jabs the pantry’s dark.
Lunge, lunge, jab. 3:15 AM. The drawers watch
with open mouths. Cabinets, too. 3:17 AM.
What loaded arsenal is a well-stocked kitchen.
Jars of marmalade, cans of soup and black beans,
spent beer bottles. An oversized canister of salt.
She fondles the weapons slow, a rancid lust.
3:21 AM. Her cigarette glows from the fourth-story window.
She is reciting poems. Arguing with her face.
Revisiting his every pointed curse, his ghosthands
at her throat. 3:34 AM. The ceiling is crawling with spiders.
The walls, streaming with bleach. Tiles peel up from floorboards,
water glasses jump to their deaths. The forks begin to chant.
3:41 AM. The oven opens its jaws.


Waking Kali

A siren erupts in the dark.

It is her throat.

The apartment is empty.

She lurches, swoops.

Aims for things that are not real.

Her body is a fist.

Her heart,

a twelve-cylinder engine.

She writhes and folds.

Plants bruises into her breastbone,

her temples, her thighs.

She beats the door frame.

The counter, window sill.

Strikes each cabinet’s face

twenty-seven times.

She thunders the hardwood in hot circles,

pistons in her ankles.

Prays to be made of stone.


Bridge Song
to Angel Nafis

Dear Angel:

These men. They come hard. Fast
as grains of sand in a windstorm.
Not been myself lately. Been jumping rivers,
collecting knives. Collecting sedatives. Been fishing with my tongue
in the throats of men. Find dead things stashed between their teeth.
I opened my shirt. My chest. Opened doors and cabinets, windows.
Opened skin, opened thighs. I’ve said it honest as I know how:
This is me. This is all. Isn’t much. I am heart and breath and skin and bleed.
Sometimes tornado, sometimes lullaby.
They take, Angel. They take.
They say too much. Words made from lead.
Marriage. Children. Today. Love. Ready. Yes.
Angel, why do they leave?
Been ignored so hard my skin turned to wood.
My tongue is salt. They got me, Angel. Forgotten jewelry in a drawer.
Ornaments in boxes. Old trophy in a basement. Just lay in those sheets, woman.
Just lay quiet. I’ll get to you after you repent. Once you hate yourself good enough.

(Funny how it doesn’t hurt when you’re the one doing the leaving.)
Even the men we love, Angel. They get busy. Get girls. Get drunk.
Get distraction. Get bus. Get plane. Get paid. Get loose. Get gig. Get
handball. Get tired. Get lost. Get MFA. Get laugh. Get gone.
Angel, when I doused the rafters in kerosene and went in
with the blowtorch, after the corpses were dragged out and buried proper,
I thought staying right meant staying honest.
Just be truth and you can’t get hurt, right?
Said a girl made of splinters isn’t built for love.
But they tried, anyway, Angel. They tried. And turns out, I can.
I can love hard as shrapnel. So hard I melt skin.
There was a night in the sheets – the sheets that once were his –
another man’s heat and me, a dogpile of convulsion, lurch and moan.
I sobbed because he was gone, and that man held me, Angel.
Held me like a father holds rage, arms tight across as lifejacket.
Shuddered like that ’til daybreak. He whispered, I want this wreckage.
Now, his mouth is full. Gold strands of hair. Got condoms. Got limos.
Got whiskey and football and steak to fry.
He walked me in the rain. Said my skin was perfect as daisy petals.
Talked me off that bridge. Made me laugh, Angel.
Laugh—even when the city and my face were set on fire.
I lay in my sheets. It’s always the sheets. The soak and stain of old linen.
Lay myself flat, spread myself thin. Flatten hips and breasts, roll outward
like a layer of seeping cream. Get thin and thin and thin.
Reach for the edges of the mattress, pray to be thin as paper,
thin as invisible. Thin as never. Angel, it’s so empty here. Always empty.
Always fighting some man in the street. Always fighting.
No one wants the wreckage, Angel. No one strong enough.
I’m afraid of the river, Angel. Afraid it’s going to start calling again.
Afraid I’ll wake up tomorrow and my front door will open right out
onto the entrance of that bridge. I’m afraid of the fish, Angel.
How their tails will pull me under. I’m afraid of the boats, their propellers,
their life vests. I’m afraid of the corpses, all the girls never found.
Afraid of the men, Angel. How they tug at the meat.
How sharp their teeth.

More poetry at Used Furniture.


  1. Absolutely stunning. The imagery, the tone, the pacing — everything. A pleasure to read.

  2. LOVE these, Jeanann Verlee! ‘Ritual 3:06,’ reminiscent of Anne Sexton! Pure brilliance! And I LOVE Used Furniture Review and Dave Cotrone for publishing exceptional work every day! WOW!

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