Jessica Piazza

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

after Hokusai

The wave's gnarled fingers
reach, reach. The beach is nowhere.
We bow in the boats.

(God of what floats, know us. God of water and wind, unbend the wave's rage.)

The beach is nowhere.
We flee the bow, the boat
rows itself awry.

(God of hands, brace our oar-grips. God of hands, the grave's gnarled fingers wave, wave.)

The silent snow falls.
The sky's white ghost rises, soars.
We grip our thin oars.

The Empress of Many Tongues

"...Lust and law were one in her decree."
--Dante, from The Inferno


Love was what it was, but I had things
to do. A lark might raise itself into
the sky by just the grace of its pale wings,
but I was raised by doves. It's what I knew:
Fly. Fly. And always up. My Omnes bent
the knee to Ninus. Ninus yearned for me,
and he was King. I went. And if I lent
myself to love that knelt to any knee
but mine. I wouldn't have controlled a fleet,
nor raised the mighty Babylon from dust,
nor seen an empire grovel at my feet.
It may be wrong to say, but Omnes must
have been a fool to kill himself for me.
I mean, I didn't die out in the cold--
I charmed the birds. And now I charm the world.


Who could have guessed that it'd be a drag
to be a queen? My days behind a wall
of lace, my nights truncated by a nag-
ging baby prince who squalled and slobbered all
the time, while Ninus soundly slept and dreamt
of rainless Asian countries that he'd sack?
So I revamped, you know? (Although it meant
I had to send another husband back
to gods and soil.) And it was easier
this time. True, it's tough to keep a man
away (refer to Omnes), but to lure
one to agreement with a sigh, a fan
of lashes fluttering? It was a joke.
I had that kingdom nailed before I spoke.


So blame the doves again, if you must point
a finger somewhere. They, too, bore of mates
and nests each season. But don't equate
me with black widows! No Zeus, no ruse, no Fate
will marry me off thrice. And though I woo
a man now and and again, I think I've earned
that right (and--hey--I gave it to you too).
A continent I rule: I think I've learned
a thing or two about the ways of men.
And no advice has held as well as Kill
'em while they're dead asleep
. It's then
you're free to live according to your thrills.
Take it from the Empress of Many Tongues.
It really is a shame to use just one.

Wool and Water

These are the winter wanderer's fetters.
Sopping stocking snowbound march.

The sky's arch-menacing gunmetal-
threatens; nemesis and staunch.

It keeps you miles away, this weather.
Like you never loved me much.

Scullery and Scatting

The song of foaming water lapping
clanking pot and soap-slick spoon.
Soon, the master's coming. Sooner,

tune of doo wop bee bop boo. We do
the things that most need doing; girls
erasing every mess. We trill the way

that doves do, cooing: fallow
muscles in song-less throats.


Jessica Piazza is the author of two poetry collections: Interrobang (Red Hen Press, 2013) and the chapbook This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, she's currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. She is a co-founder of Bat City Review and Gold Line Press, and a contributing editor at The Offending Adam. Learn more at www.jessicapiazza.com.


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