Three Poems by Jenn Blair

What everyone knew for certain [in Fayetteville, West Virginia] was this: On the night before Christmas 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away in the Army). Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out. George and Jennie and four of their children escaped but the other five were never seen again.        —Karen Abbott “The Children Who Went Up in Smoke” (Smithsonian)

Jennie Cipriani Sodder (1903-1989)

Tell the butcher to leave nothing 

on the appalled floor or his murder 

hands, I will own each smear on his 

apron, pull the last cuts of pork, 

chicken, and beef from the shelves, 

plunder more heft and more meat 

than I ever bought all those weeks 

I scrimped and saved, employing 

water, flour, cunning, and dented,

discounted tins of beans and corn 

to try and fill multiplying mouths, 

hapless animals trapped in our 

gut as my husband and I bowed 

our heads, thanking heaven we 

had found favor and fellowship 

in a place where we were not born. 

Tell him that whatever I am now, 

I’m not the woman who used 

to stand there, basket in hand, 

meekly glancing past the most 

gracious slabs of marbled ribbon 

to point at gristle choked scraps 

while inquiring after his family. 

Today, I do not speak to anyone 

at all before hurrying death back 

to my kitchen—to un-string it—

hack it—studiously observe how 

low then higher, more painful, 

flame licks piles of bone, see what 

endures after hide, tongue and kidney 

slough off and fall away, all the soft 

parts unable to watch and pray, faith

-less disciples fast asleep in Gethsemane 

as God wept blood. But bone is not 

ash but what sits down in it, stubborn. 

So much beautiful flesh—flesh of five—

the eye would go in a blink, skin quickly 

turn to film curling in smoke and air 

but how could everything else formed 

in that secret place come to nothing so 

soon? Who would be so cruel as to leave 

us no knuckle to put in an inlaid box—

no pine-knot knob of spine to sift then 

fall upon, weeping—no single tooth 

to serve as reliquary—dread—relief. 


Mountain Town

At the river’s last visible curve, a mother pretends 
to slay her son with the tomahawk she’s just bought 
him while a man pushing a baby stroller sits down 
on a park bench near the museum—head in hands. 
The placard hung above the faded raccoon cradling 
a lacquered crawfish in its dusty paws called these 
hills worn down nubs of their former selves, bluest 
chaff of the ages—severely shucked spire of the one 
right Word, diminished Astonishments. All day long 
they undulate in place. Moving water standing still. 


And Will the Unborn

sing us or curse us? We who 
meant well but squandered 
and wasted and now sense 
a new chill crept in beneath 
the eves—darker shadow 
reflected back in the glass
—all our loves and hates 
swiftly gathering to naught 
in our spindle bone arms 
as myriads of gnat-motes 
hang suspended in twilight’s 
amber, briefly transfigured, 
briefly visible. The scythe—
already lifted. As it hurdles 
down, we hurry the children 
out, inadvertently crushing 
the snail’s back and brains 
as we move though the tall 
grass searching for Orion
—Aldebaran—that old, 
still startling, thrill—(Venus 
threading itself low in the pines).

Jenn Blair is a graduate of King University and Hollins University, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, The Chattahoochee Review, Appalachian Review, and Kenyon Review among others. The 2019 recipient of Broad River Review’s Ron Rash poetry prize, her poetry books are Malcontent (Press Americana, 2017) and Face Cut Out for Locket (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2022). She teaches at the University of Georgia.