Poetry by Fiona Chamness

Editor Carrie Ivy, Poetry, March 28th, 2018

"Belly, you roll-eyed saint, cloud of blood, coil of convulsing wire."

Fiona Chamness Poetry NAILED Magazine


Poetry by Fiona Chamness.

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For D.A. Chad Seigal, who defended clients accused of rape by saying of the vagina, “It’s not like a Venus Flytrap, and snaps?”

I knew a boy in elementary school who collected carnivorous plants. Flytraps, pitcher plants, sundews, cobras, butterworts, bladder traps, corkscrews, waterwheels. He was big and loud and had a deadly peanut allergy. He brought a Flytrap for show and tell and after that all anyone said about him was Venus Flytrap, Carnivorous Plant Boy, he has a collection. I’ve heard it’s freaky. I was friends with his sister. She kept her head down, had no allergies and no flowering predators, and she did all right. I went over to their house and asked to see the boy’s collection. He took me shyly to the door. A dim grotto, shot through with dusty sun; even the light was green. Some plants were gray and stiff, some had obscene red veins deep in the centers of their leaves. Some just sat, waiting. He didn’t have to demonstrate.

Around the edges of the Flytrap are long brilliant hairs. They move faster than the human eye can blink, but they are not the hairs that catch the insect. Those are on the inside. You have to touch one within twenty seconds of touching another for the Trap to close, to prevent it from wasting its energy. The hairs inside the Trap are so sensitive they can tell the difference between a moving insect and drops of rain falling. Once the Trap closes, the long hairs on the outside lace together like a corset, forming a hermetic seal. What was once a mouth becomes a stomach. The plant’s digestive acids reduce the insect to a chitin shell. The plant itself is odorless to us. It is only to flies and beetles that it smells like shit and rotting meat. What we smell in the Flytrap is not the Flytrap; it’s the carcasses inside.

I ate something in the kitchen with the boy and his sister. They had two moms. The girl wrote about it on a piece of paper the day we were supposed to write something we wished people wouldn’t tease us about. The boy would say loudly, You know technically I’m a bastard, you can’t say it’s a bad word, it’s just the truth, I’m a bastard. One of the moms had a book on a shelf across the kitchen table called MEN WHO RAPE. I had never seen that word in a sunny window, out in the open with all the other words. I went to extract it from our giant set of school encyclopedias. I told some girls afterward that I’d found it, proud, or ashamed, after one of them had looked up sex and bragged for days. They gave me disappointed looks. One said, that’s not that bad. When I told them later about the plant collection, they were more impressed. What a freak. Was it freaky. I said it wasn’t. Freaky had changed as I rooted furtively among the R’s. What I’d found wasn’t much like a Flytrap. Really, it was nothing like a Flytrap at all.

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The Story of How I Become My Mother


The dishroom is a hurricane of porcelain. Lizzy
says It’s crazy out there, fixes her apron

strings with twig fingers. Stack trays, slide
them in, cascade ice from half-

drunk glasses with a sound like laundry change.
Steam wilts the flowers on my dress.

I am fast and strong. I feel like a girl here, rag,
muscle, constant commotion behind a scrim.

I catch us up as Lizzy feeds the machine,
duck my head just once into the dining room

to check its clock. Louisa, server, Hermes of dishes,
says Hey, hey, normally I would never ask this,

but if you have time could you go round
and take used plates from people? I wonder

if Louisa knows I can’t keep my balance
for a minute, this low oak room a minefield

of silverwhere, my feet two drunken Marx
brothers. I take a tray and like that,

I become my mother. No one told me the membrane
between dishroom and dining could split the seam

of 25 years, but here are the same old faces. Here
are her hands, this matte black disk like a record piled

with cutlery against her hip. Here a host
of directions: never set the tray

on the table. Never let the customer put the plate
on the tray. Heineken drinkers tip. Don’t spill. Take on

more than you can manage. Smile and look down. Our mind
crackles in static with my body. One of us drops

a fork. I skirt in and out, ferry dishes from the beast’s mouth
to its belly. This stone basement where my mother

once worked, its name like a fairy story, the story
of how I become my mother. My body, dish machine,

buzz of voices across the wood and lights, builds itself
from resonances. The dress whispers to the knee,

Where did this daughter come from,
and the knee says, She crashed down like a broken teacup.

And the dress asks Is she carrying all we’re carrying,
the father who is a sealed and sweating can, the sisters

who are soaking coasters and folded napkins,
brothers clattering and frothing through the house

til they go warm and flat – and the knee says Shh.
Here are Lizzy and Louisa. There they go behind

the dishroom door. I finish my shift. I think Who carries what
and with what muscle. I am your rag and girl,

mother. We’re not stupid. We know even
what we’ve never been told.

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The God Of Vomit


I am a doctor’s daughter; I know
there is no such thing as uncomplicated prayer.
Belly, you roll-eyed saint, cloud
of blood, coil of convulsing wire.
When the body is not fed first thing
in the morning, it begins after a few hours
to eat its own protein, so if I wake
with you knotted in yourself,
unable to open, or issuing bile
like a forced confession, I have
no choice: I will shrink. I will kneel
in the bathroom to the altar
of your disappearance. I will lose more of you
each time, begin looking
for you everywhere: blood tests
that leave me woozy on the table.
Swearing off a hundred substances, each
more unlikely than the last. Again and again
they will ask if I am pregnant.
When all the papers show
a litany of negatives, I will begin to wonder
about the opposite of exorcism. How do you ask
the demon to come home?

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The brother pushes his sister
on the merry-go-ground. She grips
a rail and wings her legs.
FASTER, she says;
he pushes faster. FASTER.
He pushes. FASTER.
STOP, she screams. He grabs the rail
to halt the ride. She falls
down giggling. She says
AGAIN. He laughs. AGAIN?
He asks. AGAIN. The metal
whirls. A DOG WOULD DO
A BETTER JOB, she shrieks,
dissolving. OH REALLY?
A BETTER JOB! Laughter
like a teacup-throwing
contest. FASTER.
He goes faster. STOP.
He stops. IT’S NOT SCARY,
she says. IT’S NOT SCARY?
He asks. IT’S NOT SCARY,
she says, I CAN HANDLE IT.
Around, around, around.
He has a pair of strong,
lean arms. STOP, she says,
IT’S SCARY. He stops
right then. I’m not scared,
she says, why
would I ever be scared?

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Don’t talk to that man, my mother said. He’s off.
He can be dangerous. But what a bike, festooned for spring
in streams of paper and bright red balloons,
bells splashing the air, and didn’t I see sometimes
things turning into other things at the eye-edge
of the sidewalk, feel as though my whole body
might suddenly die, sprint from nowhere
across the parking lot, a leaf swept up in a violent
inner gust? Didn’t my mother always say you’re
a lunatic, you’re a space cadet, out of control,
a little cracked? (Eggshell. Windowpane. Tooth.)
The man didn’t speak or draw too close. Hello, hello,
I said, or didn’t. I went in for tests that involved pictures
of apples, strings of numbers to be recited backwards,
a woman who asked about feelings while I drew pictures
ad nauseam of houses and mice. How did I do?
It’s not that kind of test, my mother said. House, house,
house. Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle. She said he came back wrong
from the war. She gave me my results and I lost them.
I came back wrong from the beginning. What monstrosity,
all this returning. Where is that war, that beautiful war
where we can go to come back right?


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Header image courtesy of Anton Krasnikov. To view his photo essay, “Speak it Easy,” go here.

Fiona Chamness Poetry Nailed MagazineFiona Chamness is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and musician based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her published work can be found in PANK, Blood Lotus Journal, the Bear River Review, Radius Lit, Muzzle Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and the Beloit Poetry Journal as well as in several anthologies and in the full length-poetry collection Feral Citizens, co-authored with Aimée Lê. She was the recipient of the Beloit Poetry Journal’s Chad Walsh Prize in 2014. As a musician, she released a solo album, Dispatches from the Well, on Insister Records in 2012. She is also guitarist, co-vocalist, and co-songwriter for the queer feminist punk band Cutting Room Floor, whose debut album You Shouldn’t Be Here was released in 2013.


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.