HUNGRY POEM 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
IMPACT SPORT 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.