Poetry Quintet by Jessica Mehta

Ma’am, I Am Tonight

Rare are the great moments
recognized in the making. That night
in Nashville, the rooftop,
the five of us. I watched the magic
fall slow from the sky straight
into our darkest places. The drunkards
stumbled through, the guitarist
fingered worn strings, but he sang
everything we shouted at him.

how pregnant sadness grows
when you watch happiness
ripen to spoil. Seconds are fast
but hours so much faster. Even then,

the taste of the whiskey, the smell
of your hair, all of it was passing

and so many times over terrible
than something already passed.
There was nothing
of meaning, no milestones,
but here’s what I keep:
The squeals of the swing

dancers downstairs. How Christmas
lights hung heavy as breasts. And the words,
the throat-choke melody
of “Walking in Memphis” that we screamed
into nostalgic cacophony.

On Lovers

I’ve had many affairs, but the guilt
was scarce. A sticky, chewy sauce
that hugged my tongue too tight—
surprise! But it never ruined the deliciousness.
It was, as they say,
worth it. Like chocolate cake
is worth each calorie, good sex
worth the pregnancy worries,
your face worth all those sacrifices. I think
there’s something wrong with me,
in me, something missing
or never was. How should a person feel
when they slide with slippery ease
from one warmed-up set of sheets
to the next? Worthless, worthy?
Like a slut, or swollen with freedom?
I don’t know, I don’t know, all
I know is this: I’ve taken many of you
between my legs, between my teeth
and it was glorious, all of it,
each time, every time and I will die
legs splayed and happy, unashamed
for the crematorium to burn me up.

Mi Regalo

There is no I’d like, give me
and may I in Costa Rica. It’s all
Mi regalo. Gift me. Gift me the big
coconut, the Pepsi in a plastic bag,
the roasted cashews baking
in the equator’s heat. Mi regalo
gallo pinto, a machete
to cut the grass, decapitate the lids
of garden tarantula’s dens. Gift me

that bus pass to Limon, take me
away from the razor-topped fences.
Give me long days in the jungle, sevenlegged
spiders suspended
above our hammocks. Mi regalo

a return flight, an airport ride
in the breaking-down white station
wagon with the cigarette-burned
seats. Gift me a standby seat,
a skim over the ocean, a forgiveness. Gift me

another chance with him.

Your Grandest Regret

You began to hate me slowly,
like a child practices skin colors
and rolls nigger over pink tongues.
Try it first, delight
in the oil slick naughtiness,
position yourself over me and see
all the possibilities I blocked.

It wasn’t as I imagined. Disgust
is better than pity (though there was a dusting
of that, too). Like the rest, for you
my bones gave way to shapes
you could name. Acromion, ulna, ilium. Magic
dripped from my flaws. You started to point

to my sustaining thinness, the anorexia
never fully bedding down. To the muscles
that crept over my body, shy creatures
monstrous in their strangeness. And you told me,

Men, they don’t like thin women. Muscled women.
They like us soft and fat like their mothers. And I knew,

between darts of hatred you shot me, intentional
forgets and controlled apologies you
were already miles away and me,
a blinking annoyance in the rearview. A mistake
you couldn’t sweep away or rinse
down the drain like burned milk. Me,
your grandest regret, I’d never be enough
to fulfill all the wishes you willed me to be.

Fly Songbirds Just Let Go *

go, let just birds’ song fly—us without love is stupid, so
keep up the watch. laziness kills motivation, forget never:
hands tangled with longing, and sticky kisses,
always branded (we forget). don’t
you remember I’ll forever
want you, need you. children, all like
inside wild things, some closely listen
(prey, simply scared, get you if
indolence creeps in). and grips loosen,
year after year. love you more, the
promise whispered. a break never
spreads quickly, cracks deeply, thus love my
dizziness. the quiet, please. you beg, so I
hold on, hold on, hold on just me and you.

  • Unlike most reverse poems, this is a genuine reverse poem. Instead of being able to read each line both forwards and backwards, each word can be read forwards and backwards

About the author:

Jessica Mehta is the author of three books of poetry including Orygun, What Makes an Always and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. A Cherokee poet, author, and small business owner, she’s the founder of MehtaFor, the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement, and the recipient of three writer-in-residency posts in the UK and US.