Three Poems by Jennifer Perrine

Xenophobia

I am quick to enter when you’re gone, freeze at your alarm. I gave up knocking long ago.
I’ve bleached my black locks golden, tested each bowl and bed, never once said this is just 

right. In shadow, I slip limbs into your faux furs, hold gauzy outfits to my skin. I was always your first quarry. I don’t wish to fall victim to your wary claws, only want your jackpot: 

oak chair built to your request, your exact size, custom-made for rest. I crave your sleep-
tossed sheets, your full pot left to simmer. Ages past, my mother waited, jittery, at your step. 

Uninvited, she acquired fragile papers, skirted security checks. Named alien, she mixed
with the inhabitants, birthed me, made me citizen, misjudged this land as mine. This land is  

your last-ditch inn, visitors welcome or rejected at your whim. I am still a stranger here, asked
to go back to a galaxy you imagine for me. I have tried to thread your needle, to squeeze into

every guise you prescribe. To earn a dance at your masquerade, I’ve learned to turn away, to
bar more guests, leave no door ajar. I’m now expert at keeping keys, erecting a maze of fences 

that lacks an exit. I’ve rehearsed this trap: Start with a fairy tale’s dazzle, and let it vanish. Begin with mystique — abundant prairies, huddled masses — and end with a majestic sea 

of shining caskets. Tonight, I’ll tell another story: if I can’t throw open the latches, snatch the hinges from the walls, I’ll hijack your luxury, quaff your milk and honey, seize your velvet

excess, dole that opulence out for everyone to touch. We may not ever raze the house, but
we’ll carve your bread to quench our hunger, we’ll spread your jam over our tongues to take

the edge off lifetimes we’ve lived like ghosts. We’ll buzz with the exquisite jolt of setting foot where
you’d forbid us. We’ll come to be the hosts, step into your shoes, see how they fit us. 


Isolation

No one’s touched me for months, yet so many folks have entered my home: Trees planted by some long-ago owner relaxed under the May sun, cajoled by each breeze to squander petals

for me to track along the floor. Each bloom bore fruit. I quelled my hunger, ignored the exact flavor of each plum. In June, lavender wafted through my window. I did not note the buzz of

bees, but surely they were here all this silent year, their humming quests unregistered by my careless ears. What else explains the fresh raspberries, the zucchini I picked every day in July

and bequeathed to my vegan neighbors? It’s easy to suppose I grow such wonders from
scratch, a wizard magicking every jot from my own exertion. Easy, before I consider the fact

of my whole house — joists to fixtures — built by other bodies, my entire environment — prized desk blemished with ink, bed where I curl tight on these sequestered nights — pieced together  

on assembly lines I will never see. If I’ve fussed over a complex meal or made myself queasy gobbling pizza in my pajamas before a screen, I’ve done so via hands who plucked and milled, 

who processed, extracted, packaged, and conveyed all the elements of my pleasure and ease. Now, bulbs blaze along eaves up and down the street, beacons equal to the abject gloom of 

December. They uplift me when I am wintry — all blues, never jazz — quash the rash belief
that I am truly secluded, my residence a shuttered exhibit. After a walk in that glittering dark, 

my privacy is porous, a leaky ship set adrift from its jetty. I am capsized, flooded with visitors, the flux of their breath through my hull. I quiver at their caress, let it swim all through me.


This Too

For nearly a year, the sign outside
the church I stride past on my daily walk
has offered a single adage: this too
shall pass. At first, I didn’t know
if they meant the virus, the wildfires,
the smoke, the people marching these streets
with guns slung over their shoulders,
this earthly life so rife with pain,
but now I consider the old growth trees

across the way that were felled to make
plots for state-of-the-art dream homes,
how those acres passed from the hands
of a lapsed commune into the waiting
arms of my new neighbors, how this too
is my community, these seekers
of amenities no different
in the end from my keen need for touch
or sun, the lot of us bound by our want

of comfort, which too shall pass like the boys
in their cars tossing slurs that flutter
down around me like cherry blossoms
or like the ovaries left to ripen
on branches into a barrage of fruit
that speckled the pavement with red
pulp the length of summer. The crimson
words pass from the boys’ lips, their cars pass
breakneck down this residential road,

too fast for me to catch their faces,
though perhaps their families live nearby
and also awoke one morning to find
a palm-sized stone atop their mailbox,
every house for blocks bestowed with these gifts
of flat gray rocks painted with neon green
hawks, with seascapes and lightning bolts, peace
and hope and, yes, this too shall pass lettered
in shaky script. I’ve misplaced the one

entrusted to me, with its bouquet
of pastel eggs, but still have photos
of the ones that came months later:
confederate flags and swastikas drawn
with precision, with care. These too,
I presume, passed like a murmur
under the breath of someone I’d vexed,
a hex to banish me from this neck
of the woods. These too were made by people 

to whom I may wave or nod when out
for my afternoon stroll, whose children
might toddle over to cuddle my dogs
as they strain at their six-foot leashes,
as they snort and lick these strange, small faces
I’ve come to know as I’ve come to know
the scents that drift from each apartment
complex: who sifts cinnamon into pies
or curries, who lifts to their lips meatloaf

seasoned with packets of French onion mix.
I’ve come to know this too: who to ask
for a ladder, a pair of pruning shears,
who will allow me to snip a rose
from the bush beside their front porch,
whose windows gleam with TV screens —
Fox News or MSNBC —
and whose homes remain dark all evening.
I’ve learned who still does not recognize me,

though we’ve lived so close for so long,
who will call the police if I wander
within reach of their cars, if my dogs stop
to sniff their lawns. I’ve learned I still appear
to some as if I’m just passing through,
but neighbor, I am here to stay.
I know you are, too. If we don’t
yet love each other, perhaps at least
we’ve both seen the same person swing by 

on their bike, the one who belts golden
oldies so loudly you can hear them
full minutes before they come into view.
Perhaps you have been smitten, too,
by their perfect pitch, been tickled
by the hot pink liberty spikes affixed
to their helmet. Neighbor, if you too
have been folded into yourself so long
you know by memory each crease 

of worry, each absence gathered
and held under your paper-fine skin,
if you too are counting the hours
until some change you’ve long awaited
comes to pass, I hope that voice carried
on the breeze bowls you over, as it does
me, with its boldness, with its ease,
that it unfurls you, spreads you open
for a moment to make room for this too.


Jennifer Perrine (JP) is the award-winning author of four books of poetry—Again, The Body Is No Machine, In the Human Zoo, and No Confession, No Mass. JP serves as the current guest editor for Broadsided Press and is a co-editor at Airlie Press, a consensus-based collective that publishes poetry by Pacific Northwest writers. JP lives in Portland, Oregon, where they co-host the Incite: Queer Writers Read series and teach creative writing and intersectional equity practices to youth and adults. When not writing, editing, or teaching, they enjoy dancing, gardening, planting trees, and backpacking.