Jennifer Sweeney


Whether poetry or creative nonfiction, my writing is embodied with and informed by the energy of the feminine. It springs from the need to speak a truth from a female perspective, a breaking open into vulnerability and the possibility of beauty, not as a romantic ideal but rather, as a realization of the natural world. In my experience, to be in communion with the natural world is, at root, a feminine gesture. It is a moving away from the ego as the central character of one’s art, and an opening to the transformation of self into other. I envision thought fused with the five senses as a kind of “body-thought,” the sixth sense of poetry. This writing from and into the body is an intuitive state that is a gift to the female writer, one that stewards metamorphosis. How is inner experience recorded on a somatic level? How does the female psyche become her body? At this point in my life, the question of femaleness continues to be seedwork for my writing.




How To Feed An Orchid

Clarify the relationship.
It is you being fed and the orchid
who spoons blossoms in your mouth.

Find an east-facing room
quiet as a theatre of monks
watching a woman cross the stage.

Do not involve your own thirst when watering.
Incidental light is preferable to any replica of sun.
Stone, wood, marl or coconut husk
provide anchorage and let it be.

Like your thoughts without television,
the columns will harness the underestimated air
into calyx and corolla.

Urn-shaped or lyrate, barbate or ephemeral,
to nourish the orchid,
maintain a spirit of delicacy
with your dearest.

For the careful rosette and trinity of petals,
it bears the common name of “nun.”
But look at its center—
sheathed, gaping, labiate—

no less a woman.




In a buttoned cardigan and pressed shift,
she leans solemnly against the white porch
column like she has found something
strong enough to bear her grief,
eyes pointed heavily outside the frame.
Perhaps everyone has a photo like this
where the possibility that anything can happen
has just dervished away.
Soon she will marry an Italian man.
He will invent useful things
like the first plastic soda bottle
and a version of her life.
He will ask for a son
and she will name five daughters.
He will build a house to hold their lives,
and that house will be the only one
that could tell the story without vaulted
chests and trapdoors.
She will make the egg noodles each week
out of nothing special,
turning dough in the hand crank
to ribbons the color of old letters.
They will break after they air dry
so she will slide tissue paper under and lower
the cradle into department store shirt boxes.
The daughters will have daughters who will
eat those noodles, dry and chewy
as teething crackers. A shirt box
atop their refrigerator will remind
the girls that devotion is a wheel
turning in ordinary light.
When her husband dies, one granddaughter
will ask at the wake
Grandma, would you like some pasta?
and she will answer squarely
No, I never liked Italian food.


Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of How to Live on Bread and Music, winner of the 2009 James Laughlin Award and the Perugia Press Prize, and also, Salt Memory, which received the Main Street Rag Poetry Award. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her poems have appeared in Southern Review, Spoon River, Crab Orchard, Passages North, Hunger Mountain and elsewhere. She currently serves as assistant editor for DMQ Review and lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.