An Engagement with Jessica Poli

by Natalie Einselen

The ninth issue of Jellyfish features two poems from Jessica Poli, editor of Birdfeast and winner of the University of Southern California’s 2012 Gold Line Press Poetry Chapbook Competition for her chapbook Egg Mistress. The poems featured, airy, open, multi-stanza “Vault” and dense prose poem “Sarah Collects Uncertainties, Keeps Them in a Box above the Fridge,” pair well together. “Vault” reads like a prelude to “Sarah Collects Uncertainties, Keeps Them in a Box above the Fridge,” and though they differ greatly in form, both poems play off of each other smoothly and intricately to provide a critical message about the power of silence.

Both poems open with uncertainties. In “Vault” the speaker dares the reader to “Try not to think about / the edge of the room,” and “Sarah Collects Uncertainties, Keeps Them in a Box above the Fridge” opens with questions phrased as statements: “What the baby thinks when no one's there. What windows see.” Beyond the edge of the room lies the unknown, anything could lurk beyond; the baby’s thoughts can’t be determined, and the window can’t report what it’s seen.  The reader is forced to challenge and explore these mysteries on their own without much direction from the speaker. The mind is left to wander, unhindered, on these wide-angled ideas until Poli next introduces a palpable physical image in each poem, a stark contrast to those open-ended uncertainties with which she opened the poems.

These following images serve like turns by marking the movement from a broad to a narrow view like a camera zooming in on a single tree in the horizon, and by responding to the initial mysteries and challenges presented in each poem. “Vault” ends with silence as a tangible object: “silence / is a box full of air; // it’s a vault / where gold bars sit / waiting for someone / to remember them.” Poli presents silence not as a nothing, but as a something that just has not been accessed yet. The concrete object in “Sarah Collects Uncertainties, Keeps Them in a Box above the Fridge” plays off of this idea of silence not as an unknown, but as something accessible and deliberate: “the butcher gives her an extra cut on the / house, leering at her breast.” The silence of the butcher and his gaze at her breast do not make a sound, but these actions communicate that he gives her an extra cut because he finds her body attractive without saying it directly. The reader can access the contents of the vault of the butcher’s silence through his actions.

The final image Poli reveals directly after the image of the butcher in “Sarah Collects Uncertainties, Keeps Them in a Box above the Fridge” is another of silence and perhaps the most powerful: “One day she looks in the mirror and doesn't recognize her / mouth, how it moves, how it moves and doesn’t make noise.” This seems a comment on the silencing of women that occurs across cultures. Her body speaks to the world, as in her experience with the butcher, and so her voice is silenced to the world. Returning to the definition of silence provided in “Vault,” where her body is the vault, the image of gold bars it contains signifies that within her body, within her silenced mind, is something valuable and meaningful. This speaks not just to women, but to other minorities being silenced and provides an important message: just because someone cannot be heard, does not mean they do not have something vital to articulate.

Natalie Einselen is a first year undergraduate student at Boston University studying Spanish and linguistics.