Irene, Goodnight

Jessica Cuello

The town was not a cradle.The town wasn't bent on love.My cousin and I ran beneaththe willows by the lakeuntil her sister called us home.The town churned blamelong before my cousin sleptwith men, long before she workedin the hospital where I was born,long before her regularsin the ER, the indigent,lined up at her funeralto look for herin her brother's face,to kiss her folded hands,to leave their handlers,to carry plastic bags of cansat their wrists,to bang their heads against her coffin,to touch the flowers,to not touch, to wanderin the back, afraid to takeup space. My cousin stayed.I left. The lake had a bottomthey never found.Irene, Goodnight.He banged his head on the coffinand cried for the nursethat said his name.While walking from the stationa stranger overheardher words: Don't do it.Again. Don't do it.Don't do it. Don't do it.Strangers in the deli said,Well, that's what happens when.She worked in the ERemptying bedpans,drawing blood.The willows by the lakehad narrow silver leavesand the gun was dull.Her colleagues workedto save her.They had to wait to cry.She didn't die right away,but he did. It was Sunday morning.People were in the streetbuying newspapers,buying milk.Don't to the man who threwher against the wallwho threw her to the ground.Goodnight.I'll see you in my dreams.We looked at herin photos on a board.She was a child and her father said,Put up the photoswhen she was a womanin pale blue scrubs, armsaround her sons and daughter,blanket under the wall of branches,grass in their sand bucketrepeating Don't Don't. Not his.Irene, goodnight.One time in Salvation Armythe clerk searched mefor a necklace.I was innocent.The clerk lifted my skirt,my shirt. Irene wasn't born yet.The town was constant.I couldn't speak up.Love songs played whatwe thought was justice.

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Jessica Cuello’s most recent book, Yours, Creature, is forthcoming this May from JackLeg Press. Her book Liar, selected by Dorianne Laux for The 2020 Barrow Street Book Prize, was honored with The Eugene Nassar Prize, The CNY Book Award, and a finalist nod for The Housatonic Book Award. Cuello is also the author of Hunt (The Word Works, 2017) and Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016). She is poetry editor at Tahoma Literary Review and teaches French in Central NY.

Kingston, Rhode Island

"A highly original vision, voice, concept, style, language and image all working together to produce a world inside our world. Filled with fire and violence, mystery and magic, the loneliness of laundromats, rented houses, suicide, cornfields, hunger, and ultimately a naked raw survival, 'charred walls pulled back from the frame.'"
—Dorianne Laux

"The genius of Jessica Cuello's LIAR is signaled by the (mis)spellings. Spelling, capitaliza-tion, and punctuation were not standardized until the eighteenth century, the era of printers and profit. These poems remind us that children, before they are indoctrinated into a world of correctness and pecuniary value, absorb the raw emotions swirling around them. Children hear truth even as they are told to spell it differently. The trauma of that disparity is conveyed in these poems. LIAR carries the reader into the world of a child for whom 'love is the sideswipe in the hall.'"
—Natasha Sajé

"In her gutting LIAR, Jessica Cuello, a master of the persona poem, flings off the mask to bare and bear remembered and imagined pasts. Writing often from the point of view of a child, Cuello's intricate and spellbinding poems take us on a journey of hunger and house burnings, lost fathers and distant mothers, laundromats and lust—girls longing to wear something other than shame, to claim and hold themselves in welcoming arms. 'Uncross,' she writes, 'Let your chest see.' Through poem after poem, she uncrosses, she welcomes them."
—Philip Metres

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