Four poems by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

A User’s Guide to My Heart

Lesson 1:

When you find it, throw it as far away as you possibly can, preferably, at a vertical angle.
Know that there is no such thing as a friendly firework,
that it will tail you like a greedy sun
just waiting to ignite your everything
and claim ownership over the ashes.

If you survive, congratulations: you’re immortal.
You’ve mastered resurrection.
This is the wrong instruction manual for you.
Please move onto the one
RE: How to hold the woman without hands

How to love the girl without a voice box
How to nurse the cadaver back to life

Lesson 2:

The heart is giving war the middle finger and hiding a revolver in her left pocket.
The heart doesn’t actually know how to use the revolver.
It just hates being the only one with a body full of chambers where no one wants to go.

Lesson 3:

The heart doesn’t give a fuck about Wall Street. The heart is occupying you,
wondering how there can be so much life in your veins
when all you talk about is death.
The heart thinks you should stop making your mouth a picket sign and spread that excess resurrection instead.
There is too much love in your body to keep it all locked inside your head.

Lesson 4:

If you are finding this heart on eBay, it’s only because Craigslist mistook the foster system for spam.

Lesson 5:

Love doesn’t live in the heart anymore. Maybe agape, but never eros.
Maybe liver transplant, but never support group and always anonymous.

Lesson 6:

The heart is Anonymous.
Behind every good revolution stands a hopeless romantic,
imagination burning with desire.

Lesson 7:

When the heart was little, it wanted to be a forest fire, then a machine.
Now, it wishes it was a liar.

Lesson 8:

The heart survives on a consistent diet of Douglas Coupland novels, henna tattoos, coffee and contact highs.
It’s still straight edge, for all intents and purposes. It just loves everything that’s bad for it, other hearts included. Don’t get it started on the minds.

Lesson 9:

The heart doesn’t want to be a metaphor. The heart thinks poetry is bullshit.

Lesson 10:

There is a reason why the heart is a heart and not a mouth.

It needs you to remember this,
that the body is just a marionette,
a mess of broken strings and mistaken arrangements at best.

Lesson 11:

If the heart could find a way to leave you behind,
to speak a language other than pump and attack and ischemia,
trust that it’d wish you nothing but serendipitous amnesia
and prosthetic lovers that fell together like furniture from Ikea.

For now, though, it has to settle for this:
a textbook existence based on studies of what to do
in case of the worst possible demise
despite the fact that no researchers have stuck around long enough
to actually observe it in the light.

Lesson 12:

There is no instruction manual for the war inside.

no such thing as a safety
when your body
is mess of ventricles just waiting to explode
into a map of the unknown,

so destroy this guide.
Swallow your pride
and let the shotgun anatomy
redefine the etymology of your survival.

Lesson 13:

Enjoy the ride.


The Last Postcard from Martha Gellhorn to Ernest Hemingway

December 21, 1945

Our love was a suicide note,
a daily experiment in dancing off the cliff
to see how long it’d take the other
to dive.



(for Justin Woo, after Roger Bonair-Agard’s “Atonement”)

Dear Justin,

It’s 2:11 A.M.

I have no good reason to be up save for my unspoken war with the sun,
so I’m hiding in the shadows of a city we call a world,
lying on my bed, unfurled,
and typing poems beneath mechanical fireflies.

It’s April, the month we’ve chosen to remind ourselves
that we live to write,
and I’m searching for my pride.

I’m alive, but it’s been days since I could feel my own pulse, so I’m reading your poems to revive me.

I need to know that I can change the world, but my inner riot’s all gone.

Justin, neither of us is easily compelled to love,
but when we do, we do it so fiercely that the crowds can’t separate our poems
from the wars they set on fire

and I need to reclaim my right to a fair trial.

My mind has taken to quoting your poems at the most inappropriate times,

stanzas reverberating through muted cell-phone signals
these are the hate crimes you commit against yourself
the times I choose silence over fuck
and call it noble

when I ask the boy
fluent in invisible walls
to scale mountains he can’t see
in the name of loving me properly

when I mistake altitude sickness for love

I just want to tell you that we are still in flight

after I’ve cut off my wings in the name of grounding

when I’m slated to leave the only home I’ve ever known
for Chicago’s shrouded light
though I’d trade anything
for an oxygen mask and more time.

He doesn’t love me, Justin.

He says he needs something but he doesn’t know what the something is.

My best friend is an invisible wall.

I’m afraid that, by the time I return,
he’ll speak her better than poetry.

The lifelines run from my palms.

I ask the poems for direction. They say:
in a universe that’s always expanding,
we all eventually lose one another,
but that’s not good enough.

I want your gumption, Justin,
to challenge the laws of physics with my tendons and teeth,
but the closest I can get is silence.

My perception and identity are two separate things
and, today, the dissonance defines them.

You say
science kills pretty lies,
but although I over-analyze,
I can sense truth.

Intuition’s the only thing that’s never failed me
and it keeps pointing towards an invisible pew.

Justin, I’ve taken up praying to whatever makes the sky blue.

Man or machine or chemical equation,
it’s the only ring that’s ever been attuned to my moods
and I need all of the help I can get.

Fact-checker: just tell me this poem is true.


Trigger Warning

(After Ryler Dustin)

There’s a little girl inside my head.

She’s not my inner child, but she has the uniform down pat:
lace dresses and pearls, her mother’s mascara and scarlet lipstick.

She has a face like a fever
and thinks everything is a tea party, right
down to the rehearsed bows and curtsies.

If I’m not careful, she’ll steal the childhood out from under me,
tie ribbons across my eyes
and transfuse my blood with naiveté
because ignorance is pretty
and there’s nothing more precious than letting yourself go.

I used to call her sister
in the days she lived outside myself,
but her face is contagious
and I can’t afford to bring that kind of thing home.

I’m not a germaphobe —
I just know where she’s been:
the asphalt desert of Jersey City
the chest-chill of hellos at dusk
the forget-me-nots of friendly intervention
the mouth of the my other half.

His eyes don’t look the same anymore.

He can’t help but carry her everywhere he goes:
to the grocery store,
to a school whose students know viruses
like heritage.

The Harlem sunlight burns my eyes in mourning.

He claims to be recovering,
but I can still see signs of infection
when insecurity has him checking his thoughts’ reflections
for signs of her undue influence.

The first time she appeared in my poems, I thought I was losing my mind

but the definition of a retrovirus
is a code designed to reverse engineer the existence of its host
until it has no choice but to explode,
a shell of the organism it once was.

The definition of a trigger
is a psychological meme
that thrives in one’s mind
until they regress
into a catatonic mess.

Her face is all gunslinger and biological duress.

I am the mother
who refused to give her kid a vaccine
because I believed in natural immunity

and so we all fell down.

This life is a trigger warning.

The imaginary girl is a real woman
who could start an epidemic in a second,
he will always be the boy
too pretty for his own good,
and I will be the one
forever ready

to come apart,
a mosaic of metaphor and gunshot,
if it means I’ll get out alive.

More poetry at Used Furniture.

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