Three Poems by Kai Coggin

No Choice 

Since the supreme court land-grabbed our bodies back to 1973, I’ve been searching for wombs inside other lives, asking if they know they have more freedoms than human bodies who can carry a child. I scream inside the deep wells of certain flowers— purple columbine, golden bells, red hibiscus, a floating white lotus, all with their impervious blooming, their wildness, their capability to wither at the whim of wind. I google female sex organ of a flower and laugh at the irony of the word pistil, how a pistil in the flower kingdom carries an ovary and a stigma, a stigma that has no shame, but in the human names, an ovary has the stigma of men’s desires and a pistol has less regulation than my womb. An AR-15 assault rifle in a classroom has more autonomy than the little girl it just blew bullets through. My heart keeps breaking at this country. I plead for light into the thousand faces of a mammoth sunflower, and they bow their pitying heads, set a thousand suns. I sit on my deck among the mourning doves cooing in the pine, and I too mourn what I thought was mine. This body. This skin and cells, this flesh, this bone. I am beyond mothering— know my body will never home or vessel a child, but this red state will bleed redder still with the trigger ban signatures of these scheming leaders, enforcing an unholy law that strips us all of our dignity and ability to do what is best for our own bodies. I scream into my valley and my mountains scream back. I clip my fingernails, and these little crescent moons ask me about ownership. Which cells of mine have been sold to the highest bidders? Which organs no longer do my own bidding? In two weeks, I will become Auntie Kai to a little girl, a niece who I cannot wait to meet, a sweet life who I have already met in my dreams, a new baby girl born into a world where she has more protection in her mother’s womb now than she will when she comes out. Little girl, little girl, what is this world we have shaped for you when you have no choice to be born into it? 


Expecting Persimmons
(for Diospyros kaki Fuyu)

Every year for the last three years, when autumn cusps the edges of summer
there comes a large flat-rate USPS box heavy and weighted, 
stuffed and swollen with glowing suns.

My mother mails fruit— not a mixture, not something that spoils in transit, 
but crisp and fresh, firm and taut, a plump bounty of Japanese persimmons, 
their sunlight skin shiny and strong, leaving room for ripening, 
leaving time for eating between me and my love. 

Dozens of little orange planets 
I fill into our biggest fruit bowl, they spill out over the edges 
and onto the kitchen island as we laugh and slice one open, 
the juice pooling with our gratitude, 
how can we ever eat all these persimmons?
turned gifts turned meals turned tangible expression 
of a mother’s love stretching out over the miles,
spilling gold all over our house, 
a hundred suns rising in the morning pouring their light into dark corners.

My mother always loved in food, expressed herself in morsel to mouth
not words, but the flavors of her love to savor the colors of her heart, 
and I guess I should count myself lucky for the extra weight 
I’ve always carried around because it means I was loved, 
it means I was cared for in another language.

It’s been two weeks now since the laden bright box of persimmons 
filled our mailbox, and tonight I cut slices for my students
at the adult writing workshop I teach, 
and they are still so sweet, softening with time (as we do)
and I have told the story year after year of my little Filipino mother 
stuffing as many persimmons as she can fit into that flat rate box, 
and we pass around the plate of fruit crunching and savoring sweet swallows, 
and each student takes one home— persimmons on the move 
in bags, jacket pockets, once-empty hands, 
and in the morning, each will have 
a sunrise
creating slants of light 
from inside their kitchens, 
a mother’s love spilling over
in gold. 

Black Snake 
(for Pantherophis obsoletus)

Driving home from the vet, where our old dog
gets a ketamine injection for his chronic osteoarthritis pain,
he and I drive by a large black rat snake 
splayed bloody and writhing in the middle of our street,
halfway out of his misery run over 
with his snake body glistening like an oil slick,
his entrails trailing a bright red pool 
organs green and fleshy protruding ghastly. 

I slow to check on the poor creature,
roll the window down to see if he is dead or not— 
thick life stopped short and he moves, 
shapes and coils his body 
into (I swear) a heart, 
a swirl, a sign he’s still here yet unsalvageable.
He lifts his head toward me, 
his round eyes meet mine
and I think of those cowboy movies
where the gentle sheriff has to shoot his horse 
because it’s broken its leg clomping through a rocky ditch,
and do I carry this stark compassion in my bones?

At the moment, no. 

I drive home, carry my old dog inside
and tell my wife of the black snake in the road.
Is it suffering? Oh Kai, it’s suffering—
she runs out the door, frantically paces the deck for a moment.
How are you going to do it? I ask.

Don’t ask me that question right now!
the tires skid reverse and I walk inside thinking
of pleading snake eyes and a type of bravery that’s unnamed—

I look at Genghis, our old sleeping good boy, 
his eyes drowsy from the ketamine 
but the warmth and love in them still shine 
with the trust of a young puppy, 
his body curled
into a heart.

Kai Coggin (she/her) is the Inaugural Poet Laureate of the City of Hot Springs, and author of five collections, most recently Mother of Other Kingdoms (Harbor Editions, 2024). She is a Certified Master Naturalist, a K-12 Teaching Artist in poetry with the Arkansas Arts Council, a CATALYZE grant fellow from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, and host of the longest running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country—Wednesday Night Poetry. Coggin was awarded the 2023 Don Munro Leadership in the Arts Award for Visionary Service, and the 2021 Governor’s Arts Award for Arts in Education. She was twice named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times, and nominated for Arkansas State Poet Laureate and Hot Springs Woman of the Year. Her fierce and tender poetry has been nominated six times for The Pushcart Prize, and awarded Best of the Net in 2022. Ten of Kai’s poems are going to the moon with the Lunar Codex project, and on earth they have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Best of the Net, Cultural Weekly, SOLSTICE, The Night Heron Barks, Bellevue Literary Review, TAB, Pirene’s Fountain, About Place Journal, Sinister Wisdom, Lavender Review, Tupelo Press, and elsewhere. Coggin is Editor-at-Large at SWIMM, Associate Editor at The Rise Up Review, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. She lives with her wife in a peaceful valley, where they tend to wild ones and each other.