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Sample Poems by Jen Karetnick

Borromean Rings

In the beginning, there were three:
The invariant, the crossing link,
and the trivial component.

The oldest and youngest treated
each other like a disentanglement
puzzle. They tugged in infinite ways.

The crossing link never really wanted
to be solved. She knew a snip to the heart
would be permanent and, with one ring

removed, the remaining two would float
as they do, side by side, catches released,
fundamental products of the unknot.


Sick shoulder, you are like this version of America:
Frayed and inflamed, your parts do not like to work

together. You war over territory, push every
bone around, bloat the rhetoric of muscle, set nervy

traps. All cry pain, then huddle, fragile,
in place. In the end, there is no lift. No pull.

I understand, looking back, the incremental freeze.
But if you quit, you get only the loss you deserve.

Incantation for the God Gene

Cast away the coins
closing your lids.

Roll off the stones
weighing your limbs.

This is what we know:
Every Good Book

when in doubt
is named again.

We inherit the sins
of our glossolalia,

secreting the Divine like sex.
The seat of the soul

is in the genitals,
the road to Mecca,

Jerusalem, Damascus
a network of nerves

like so many places
to get lost, a corn maze

with only one true center.
Fire the pathways

of hymns and prayers.
It is not the hand

that inscribes that turns
the snake to serpent.


From eight until three, she teaches Shakespeare
half-lit, her eye melting wax from the candle,
the flame burning the hole of her pupil.
Her vision is Morse code, spy code, a bar
code, a bush of mosquitoes with Zika,
sluggish, misted from too far with Naled.
A soliloquy of flaws, like Hamlet
the membrane chooses to be or not to be,
detaches an arrow at a time, on pace,
before the shaft's lasered back into its
quiver. Like crackers broken in packets
but still constrained by shape. Leaded stained glass.
Her eye is the poet; no one else sees
the world around her fall into pieces.