Poetry Suite by Olivia Gatwood

Editor Carrie Ivy, Poetry, May 30th, 2017

"... they all feel it / gather and chant / not for the taming of their sister..."

Olivia Gatwood Poetry Nailed Magazine


Poetry by Olivia Gatwood

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The Lover As A Cult
after Sam Sax


And I am humming in an ankle length cotton dress
hanging sheets to dry on a thin wire.

A group of girls with swollen, brown nipples braid each others hair
while you watch, nod and direct their fingers over and through, over and through

even the memory of their muscles must be unlearned and retaught
by your singular truth—how to hold a spoon or crack an egg.

We are sitting on the cusp of Spring.
We are always sitting on the cusp of Spring.

I remember what it was like to be them—the girls—
pungent and ripe and apologizing for every audible movement

but also looking out at the infinite tongue
of a middle-America highway and feeling joy.

I don’t know what happened.

Maybe, the only reason we fall in love
is to see what we look like to someone else.

I remember when I first came here, you told me the laundry was my duty.
You said you liked how precise I was with cloth, praised the way I hung and folded.

I developed an affinity for bedding.

And after the night of drying, we would unclip the sheets from the line
lay them out on the field – make love and fall asleep in the breeze – all before even going inside.

We never had any clean sheets.
It was our favorite joke.

Soon, you stopped caring and I lost purpose.
I waxed and waned into a cup of bitter tea.

I have started to meditate on all of the other things I can do with a sheet.
How I can twist it to be rope or drape it over my sitting body.

When you told me that you admired the way I scrubbed a toilet
I heard “everything you touch becomes new.”

When you tell me to kill the chickens, though I have never so much
as swatted an insect, I will practice wringing my own ankles.

I am afraid that outside of here, is just another here. I am afraid I will spend the rest of my life
hoping to build myself in the vision of someone else.

What am I, if not yours?
What do I do with my hands when they are just hands?

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some girls aren’t born they burst
after Kaveh Akbar


not from their mothers

……….but some other kind of milky and muted house coated in blubber

they claw through the fatty husk or chew or peel


arrive    somewhere i imagine a field   or a city  or next to a pack of sleeping coyotes

……….and gurgle up a voice like wet metal    which they spin and spin

…..when they find themselves apologizing          they stop apologizing


these girls unravel into something whole

……….they do not do as demanded

when they cry they split the windshield      use the glass to clean the dead skin beneath their nails


the sadness becomes rage becomes song which lives like bloody yolk in their stomachs

……….they suck on pennies and crash parties

these girls are so loud they forget they were ever just a newborn   infant    sack of reliant muscle


………………..they are desperate to fight and be fought

sometimes one will press the knife against his throat     and then her own

……….sometimes one will swell like a tumor with teeth and hair     a face


when this happens   they all feel it   gather  and chant

……….not for the taming of their sister

but the sanity   the wish for her anchored and cradled brain

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you agree to do it if he lets you lie on your side.
………………….you tell him it hurts less this way.
you tell him you will close your eyes.
………………….you tell him it feels nice. like spooning.
you place your hand on the wall in front of you. when he pushes,
………..your hand against the wall acts as a cushion for your face.
you have grown accustomed to discovering all of the ways
………..you can make the pain intangible. unrecognizable.
for instance, preventing a nosebleed.
………..and so, you are between him and your hand, against the wall
window-shopping for the next room, the front door,
………..outside, where it is lunchtime and your father is repairing something
on the car you ruined. the boy goes fast and apologizes.
………..you do not tell him everything you’ve learned.
that this, your body, a small knot and his, in combat, is what you know.
……….he pulls your hair back from your face
says thank you, i needed that. i’m hungry, let’s eat.

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The boys took me to the corner of the park
that was most hidden by trees to tell me the news.
Are you going to kill me, I joked and they
each pulled a handful of grass from the ground
and shoved it into their mouths.

I waited in silence while they looked at me
the same way my father did
when I choked on a piece of bread at dinner,

What happened was, Jordan said
While you were away, Eric continued

It wasn’t that big of a deal, JoJo choked out
like a skipped rock across the river of his throat

and there they sang like a choir of boys
whose voices have not yet plummeted
to the bottom of a well

Your boyfriend left the party with a girl

and this time, this time he came back
covered in blood, his shirt was soaked,

he threw it away, drank whiskey for the rest of the night
half-naked, when we asked what happened
he said she got a bloody nose
said she got her period, said she was a virgin,
said she liked the pain, said sometimes you can fuck
a girl so hard you break something

no other man could reach.

I waited for them to finish 
I often did then with men,
to stop speaking
of this girl who I imagined
must have been blonde.

And when they sealed the confession,
I wove my fingers together in my lap
like a patient wife, knitting her own body,
pushed the girl back down to the bottom of the river
said, What do you mean, “This time.”

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in the alley behind my parents house,

you tell me you need one blow job a day to be happy


and i disappear
from oncoming traffic
into your lap.

you say some people need coffee,
i need this. and i think to myself,
it’s simple, really.

i do plenty of things once a day.
shower, set my alarm, call my father
to tell him i am safe

what is love if not
being needed,
and unzipping your throat,
if not letting the rats
underneath the sink
live, because it is the middle
of winter?

when you say, now
you mean here
and tomorrow here will be your bedroom floor
a gas station parking lot, the dumpster
behind my high school

soon, the velvet of being desired
begins to harden
and i sculpt a new, doughy mantra
to pass the time

i think, it takes three weeks
to form a habit
which means
twenty one days until it is as simple
as brushing my teeth. like any girl
good at her job, i will
teach my tastebuds
to cover their ears
develop some hack to tame the gag
and share it with all of my friends

and, i do, of course i do,
but your body becomes immune to the gift
i can tell because you stopped flinching
and stayed mad even after i was finished
i know, i know
i got lazy, i’m sorry
i can’t bind my mouth into something tighter
so the needs mutate into a tumor
with a face and teeth and hands

and soon i am swallowing your pillow
tending to the rug burn on my palms and knees,
i think, twenty one more days until i master the art
of separating brain from body
until i am the girl in the magician’s box
whose upper torso rolls away from her hips with ease
and i do, of course i do,

but you know the drill,
the need, the immunity, the tumor, the habit,
and soon, you want it twice
you want it four times
you want it in the middle of the night
but i am asleep
but you want it
so i wake up

watch this
i learn how to not wake up
while its happening
i teach myself to lock the door
of my dreams and stay there
until morning

i detach like a classroom skeleton
piece by piece

i share the trick
with the curious girl in geometry.

asleep? she says.
and stops laughing.

yes. i say.
isn’t that the best part about it?

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Header image courtesy of Jean Francois Lepage. To view his Photographer Feature, go here.

Olivia Gatwood Poetry Nailed MagazineOlivia Gatwood is a nationally touring poet, performer and educator from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work has been featured on HBO, Verses & Flow, and The Huffington Post as well as Muzzle MagazineWinter Tangerine, and Tinderbox, among others. She has been a finalist at the National Poetry Slam, Women of the World Poetry Slam, and Brave New Voices and currently performs at schools across the country as an advocate for Title IX Compliant education. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute’s Fiction Program.


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.