Three poems by Rae Hoffman Jager
First get a couple degrees in something useful like English or Art History, so you can spend time contextualizing the quotes on limited edition Starbucks cups or identifying the style of old city buildings.
Work as an adjunct and barista, so you can feel the crippling sense of academic stagnancy and worthlessness but get enough coffee to grade on weekends.
Get broken up with by your college boyfriend and a few others because you weren’t enough of something they saw on TV.
Obsessively look at houses on Zillow during that time and save up a miraculous 10k by cutting out avocado toast.
Speculate about retirement, but only for a minute or two because even though you saved most of your money, you didn’t save enough. Plus, every old white guy who has ever explained to you how investing works smells like rust. You don’t trust rust.
So give up on having a more rigid life plan. Throw down 10% of your paycheck on a tab at Ye Ole Taverne and cry a little into your gin and tonics. Have the bright idea to take your dad’s camper from 1972 that he tried to get you to live in in grad school.
Start spending your weekends in junkyards learning the songs of old car hoods and refrigerators. Visit garage and yard sales to find the missing pieces you think you need.
Let each nail and screw build you until one day a beautiful house on wheels that you never planned, is done. Don’t live in it. Sell it to one of your students for $30,000. Still spend 10% of your paycheck at Ye Ole Taverne. Admit you don’t learn lessons easily.
Build a few more cheap homes and each time feel a little lighter, like all those controlling affluent men hanging off of you—the ones who run city council, university departments, your bank, even the micro governments inside your body, are losing their grip.
Admit you are good at using your hands even though grandma says you lack ambition. Laugh because you know most wouldn’t even know how to nail together a coffin, and yours has wheels.
To the Man who Messaged me Years ago on a Dating App to Say I’d Probably Die of Breast Cancer Because I was a Jew.
At sixteen, I hiked some of the Appalachian Trail.
I climbed 2,000 feet up a running creek in my brother’s hiking boots.
I drank from a stream and didn’t get sick even after I found the rotting
raccoon carcass at the top of the hill. I got nine or ten whole miles
into the woods, baptized myself under the name Gingko, before having to turn around and hike out. My best friend had a bad case of constipation.
We all felt blocked. At twenty, I sang with the Asheville Opera Company—
one young face among thirty—not a huge accomplishment,
but in Angela Brown’s shadow, I felt like I could do anything.
So around thirty, I tried—published a very small collection of poems
I never saw royalties to— married and got pregnant with a girl
and hell, thought that was my peak and maybe it was.
I hope you’re writing this down. It’s important.
I looked at my blood results and thought of you.
It turns out you were right. Eventually, I’ll have to be hollowed out
from tit to taint. You’ve surely cut open a cantaloupe before
and removed the seeds and gore. It will be like that. They’ll stitch me
up with new slits I’ll never be able to see from. Even then
my genes may continue to rot. I am not here to thank you.
I am here to tell you I’ve done what makes me happy and then some.
I am here to follow you home from work, haunt you in dark alleys,
lay at the back of your mind like a rotting carcass that said,
listen here—I will collect every piece of myself
in a jar that day they cut me open—in a pillowcase, garbage bag, whatever.
I will sew for you a cape of my ducts and tubes to pin to your neck.
Feel me always a heavy weight on your back to follow you around.
Almost Going Blind with Jun Kaneko
I stared at what I thought was the moon for thirteen whole seconds.
When it burned through the fog and cloud above the road, I thought
Oh shit and was already blind. For three days I couldn’t see.
While confined to my house, I made several large pieces of art—
a giant wooden egg from Dogwood & Spruce twigs I found crawling
around on my hands and knees, a book with no pages made from the skin
of lizards my cat hunted to feed me, and a new pair of papier-mâché eyes
I held in front of the mirror holding. Nothing. I felt some despair
but all around me people still had errands to run, babies to push out,
jobs to complain about. When I thought I could take no more,
I turned on PBS for therapy, listened to a man’s voice describe
the large and hollow dangos and neon opera sets of Jun Kaneko.
Though I couldn’t see them, I thought—Damn, that sounds
like the kind of work that involves physics, a lot of planning,
and above, all, time—Nothing that I have.
I sat for a while in self-pity and darkness, shredded up one of my eyes
and started to come to terms with maybe never seeing again.
Then the narrator came to the end of the program
with: “Kaneko doesn’t like to explain his work, and if anyone does,
he probably won’t agree.” I thought to myself, whoa whoa stop right there.
What an entitled asshole. Only a male artist could get away with
saying something so rebellious, and I wracked my brain for all the male
artists, musicians, writers, and athletes that slid through history
comfortably and effortlessly on hundred dollar bills.
That’s when my vision returned slowly in waves of red fire,
and I saw the dangos on the screen before me in their celebrated mediocrity,
some polka dotted, others dripping with long lines of glaze—certainly
a feat of physics and strength but also just two big balls where
the inside has been replaced by a blackness that occupies
so much space nothing else can.
Rae Hoffman Jager is the author of One Throne. Her work has appeared most recently in Midwestern Gothic and Forklift, Ohio. Rae is forthcoming in Glass, a Journal of Poetry and Orange Blossom Review. Her work has been described as rambunctious, urgent, funny, and elegiac. Rae holds a BA from Warren Wilson College and an MFA from Wichita State University. When she is not cooing at her 8 month old, she tries to put words into order. For more information, you can visit her website at www.raehoffmanjager.com.