Jessica Q. Stark: “Hungry Poem” and “Impact Sport”


My mother prides herself on being a Good American 
expresses anger when I dismiss myself for five years 

first to South Korea, then to Spain; Korea is full of assholes
she says—references a long layover and a fistful of

cashiers that hated her face like I hate my face; you’ll see—
I didn’t see, but I did come back and I did come back to her strong

arm tracing around the kitchen island, a 
secret in her pocket most of the time we aren’t sick with

what wouldn’t have been 
there is a decrease in white 

frontal brain matter in most diagnosed kleptomaniacs, meaning what—
meaning impulse control, meaning behavioral medicine for undone things

white lilies popping up in every yard, blooming refuse to refuse
and how else should I categorize my particular brand of cruelty?

Most of my time is spent thinking up different scenarios that 
aren’t sensual, don’t feel sensual, and in every other episode

I’m only here because of that stupid war—insert unknown relatives’ faces
across the airplane’s aisle, my head resting on someone else’s backrest

pointing towards the Atlantic, pointed in any direction other than home

By age 15 I was a hungry, red wolf.
I worked at JoAnn Fabrics one
summer—scowling women forming

lines at the back of my hangover and a 
terrible crush that kept blooming over
floral-patterned fabric beneath my palms.

I scanned coupons and resisted knowing 
the definition of a window valance. So 
many sighs from women in search

of a texture, a measurement, some small
tool that I could never afford. After I 
learned the cameras were decoys,

it was over: stickers, hot-glue guns,
a bounty of expensive scissors I never used.
Most nights I brought sneakers and ran 

the four miles back to my childhood home, 
happy to be moving in the dark from white light.
It was worse than McDonald’s, which in truth

was fun: working the butt of 
every parent’s joke in the ‘90s, living the
worst-case-scenario at 16. Kind of 

punk rock the way MJ and I figured out
how to deliver unrecorded beverages
in the drive-thru and pocket the

complicated math. Though it was here 
where I found the limitations of my face,
where the fry guy would hold me 

by the shoulders in the walk-in freezer
and plant a greasy mouth on mine. And
what else could you do but laugh about it

later with MJ in the same freezer
sitting next to the chilled cookie dough 
with a fistful of nuggets, each of you

taking too long of a break, taking
mouthfuls of soft serve and the feeling
that we could never, ever truly die.

Fast-forward to college and I’m at the
campus bookstore, I’m at the library, 
I’m cleaning professors’ offices and 

watching their sick cats. But worst of all
I’m telemarketing, which was an unknown
quantity of death, a bait-and-switch

operation for selling car listings
with a scripted, ghost’s voice
though the phone. Later,

I’d be back alive and against
the clock trying to find a thrifted
shift that would everlast dancing

in New York City all night. The 
origins of the phrase “go-go dancing”
derives from the French a gogo 

meaning abundance, meaning galore,
which links to the word la gogue, or a 
French word for joy. I don’t know if 

I ever found happiness, shaking my
ass over glass cups and faces going
gloss. But most nights in that

mechanical suture I felt like air, 
maybe freer than a walk-in freezer,
my time and movement in abundance,

like no one could ever clock me in,

like no one ever could touch me again—
not my face, not my hand, not my teeth,

my, what big—
my, what sharp—

like I’d never eat that red hunger again.

Jessica Q. Stark is the author of Buffalo Girl (BOA Editions, 2023), Savage Pageant (Birds, LLC, 2020) and four poetry chapbooks, including INNANET (The Offending Adam, 2021). She is a Poetry Editor at AGNI and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Florida. She co-organizes the Dreamboat Reading Series in Jacksonville, Florida.