Poetry Suite by Jeanann Verlee

Editor Carrie Ivy, Poetry, May 9th, 2016

"The gnawed apple core, nameless body in the river."

Jeanann Verlee poems The Sociopath's Wife and others for NAILED Magazine


The Sociopath’s Wife I


Some don’t watch.   I do.
I climb to the platform eager.
Spread myself against the wheel wide
as a starfish. Let him bind my wrists,
ankles. Wrap a pair of ruby lips
around the ball-gag.
Some stare at the spotlight
or into the dim of the crowd.
Prima donnas demand a blindfold of their own.
Not me.   I like to watch his eyes close.
Watch the assistant tighten his mask.
Look,   how he stiffens
as the wheel begins its spin.
His free hand shaking beneath each knife.
With every reel-back, my muffled squeal
guides him toward the hit.
Each heavy thunk into the plank,
another moan. Thunk! Mrff. Thunk! Mrff.
Then, when the crowd least expects,
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Clockwork.
Gasps rise from the audience.
The wheel trembles.
I watch their faces, the horror.
Watch him steady for the finale,
his greedy dagger   hurling for my throat.

+ + +

The Sociopath’s Wife II


What you don’t know about the show—after he dresses in his fineries, after the cape and top hat (and you know it is I who straightened his bowtie), after he sharpens the saw, after he smiles his broad teeth, after he seals the box (and you know I have already climbed inside), after the saw parses my feet from ankles, legs from knees, torso from hips (and you know I should be screaming), after the head is severed, heavy and mute (and you know it is real because you saw the rigor of his arms, you saw him struggle against the body’s cruel resistance of bone and the tricky catch of muscle), after the body has leaked itself a flood (and you know it must because you yourself have before pricked a finger), after he wipes clean the blade, after he unlatches the box (and you know he must because it is his need to show the world what he has done), after he opens the lid (and you know I will be gone, thin as hot red seeped through the box’s seams), after you gasp your expected gasp and see with your own eyes the box empty as a lie—what you don’t know is the massacre, sitting alone in my dressing room, my drenched-red gown dusting the floor, head in my lap and how I begin, each slick limb in my tender hands, I repeat over and over every careful stitch: arm to elbow, torso to hip, thigh to knee, ankle to feet, and, eventually, with the mirror’s grace, head to neck, I build myself again stitch by stitch, and then, how I praise my hands—and his mercy, always gracious enough to leave my useful fingers, a way to endure.

+ + +

The Sociopath’s Wife III


When the curtain opens, you see beneath the white hot spotlight
…………him—submerged in a glass chamber full of water.

He is bound in a straightjacket and wrapped in chains
…………secured by brass locks. Beside the chamber,

an hourglass, its sand drifting downward—and me
…………crowned in a peacock-feathered headdress and sequins.

I am fingering a ring of keys, wearing a mannequin’s smile.
…………This is what you have come to see. The spectacle, the dread.

If he escapes, what history! If he cannot—if the grains of sand
…………run out, if I must drain the chamber and unlock his chains—

you will think him a fraud. And so you watch, your jaw tight,
…………hands clenched. He twists, wrestles, gently at first,

and you are confident in his practiced lungs, his dexterity,
…………his cunning. Soon, however, his struggle grows and you glance

between me and the hourglass, calculating the appropriate level
…………of concern. Still, I smile. The sand is quickening now and I

am smiling and he is thrashing against the water’s weight.
…………Gasps rise like applause through the crowd, your eyes dart

between my teeth and his whitening face and the sand runs dry and the keys
…………are spinning aloof around my finger and I am still smiling.

He launches against the glass. And launches. And again. And then,
…………stops. The water ripples and curls, slows to a halt.

The room weighs an ocean. The keys keep spinning. The audience
…………is agape. My face? Locked in indestructible relief.

+ + +



They tell me he’s changing his name.
Dirty ol’ beast.
While a woman slick with bruise
searches for a new city,
he’s pulling on a fresh suit,
a good coat of paint.
Perhaps he’ll cut his hair.
I am just the spoiled fish,
pungent and warm.
The gnawed apple core,
nameless body in the river.
On the street, schoolchildren
play with his beard.
Ask him for another joke, a cigarette.
He’s everyone’s best jester.
In his new skin, he’ll be Brad or Karl.
Something reeking of toothpaste
and antibacterial soap.
He’ll start with the smallest prey.
A girl made of lavender, perhaps.
Or one with a pair of scuffed shoes.
His is a body that has not had to survive.
It just keeps ticking, loud
as a whisper in church.
In his wake, a trail of carcasses
and spent condoms.
Sometimes, not even that.


+ + +



There are days you chew glass because the cupboard is empty or because you never learned to greet a day without something to suffer. They say it’s mother, dear mother, but you can’t unbraid the glory of her perfections from the jarring mishandling of your youth so here you go again, a mug full of shards. Some days it’s as simple as a renegade eyebrow hair and a pair of defective tweezers. Others, it’s the eight hours invisible at a desk/meeting/phone/conference but the rent is always due so you keep showing up. Then, too, the days a stranger crushes you on the subway or follows you home hot and breathing and there’s nothing left in you to even push back. Take, take. What are you at all, now? Here: one dream so serene, you wake excited for the new dresser you didn’t buy with the money you don’t have for the child you can’t seem to conceive. Another leaves you knotted: the friend you deserted on some cold principle is sitting on your couch drinking your wine, laughing his impenetrable laugh and it feels right again until day arrives and you remember its cruelties. The third dream is mother, dear mother. In the bath. In the river. In the rain. Mother in the flood. Mother is the flood. This is where you started. You, trapped in a tube of glass, chewing your way out. With each pinch, each slice of gum and cheek, you tell yourself it’s just a dream. A dream. Then you stretch and rise and yawn into your hands, spitting blood.

+ + +

Header image courtesy of Renzo Razzetto. To view a gallery of his illustrations on NAILED, go here.

jeanann verleeJeanann Verlee is author of two books, Said the Manic to the Muse and Racing Hummingbirds, which earned the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in poetry. She has been awarded the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in failbetter, Adroit, and The Journal, among others. Verlee wears polka dots and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her online: here.


Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.