I-70 Review

Writing and Art from the Middle and Beyond

Jenny Molberg

Jenny Molberg is the author of Marvels of the Invisible (winner of the 2014 Berkshire Prize, Tupelo Press, 2017) and Refusal (LSU Press, 2020). She is the recipient of a 2019-2020 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as scholarships and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the CD Wright conference. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Tupelo Quarterly, Indiana Review, The Missouri Review, and other publications.· She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Missouri, where she directs Pleiades Press and edits Pleiades magazine.

Artist Statement

Poetry, for me, is a way of writing through experience, a way to say the unsayable, and a kind of language-making that allows for emotional truth in ways that are not necessarily accessible in prose. My recent poems, collected in the forthcoming book Refusal (LSU Press), arose out of experiences with emotional abuse and gaslighting, both on a personal level and on a larger scale—I am interested in addressing and confronting the ways in which patriarchal structures of power affect and oppress our society at large. The poets I love to read are gifts during times of hardships, and it is my hope that my work can reach one person who recognizes themselves or their experience in the language and takes solace in the space of the poem.

Poetry is also a catalyst for community in my life, a life of academia and writing that is often solitary, transient, and sometimes isolating. Two-and-a-half years ago, I moved to Kansas City, where I became better acquainted with the wonderful I-70 Review, as well as a group of women poets in the region, who have become my confidants, friends, and trusted readers. My recent poems address female friendship in this regard—in the wake of my divorce, the trauma of abuse, and isolation in a new town with a new job, I found myself writing love letters, or epistles, to my friends. I will always believe in the power of language to allow us to break silences, and it is my hope that through the love language of poetry, I'm stringing up a telephone wire and speaking across the open chasm of the unsayable, just as poets I hold dear have done for me.


He said he would hang himself

so as not to make a mess.

But he was still there the next day.

And the next. And the next.

He wrote the note for the cops

on a page he tore from my favorite book

of poems. That's all I saw of it—

in absence—the ripped-out page

like a jagged fin down the spine.

What is my body but a rainstorm?

What are my bones

but flightless shards of light?

I did not feel secure,

though I married the only man

I believed was safe. Two children.

Three dogs. The dying cat.

Papers signed and unsigned.

The woman who pasted her face

over mine in our pictures

and mailed them as proof of their affair

before she tried to kill herself.

This, too, he does not tell me.

In the dream, he cuts

the air around my body

with a giant pair of scissors,

origamis me

until I am small as a ring-box.

In I go, with the rest

of my clothes, to the cardboard crate

where dress-sleeves stick out

like the arms of paper dolls. I nestle there.

I fold and fold. I try to disappear.

      —Originally published in Ploughshares

Different Kinds of Sadness

                 to E.A.H.

Sometimes a friend can save your life,

as when you drove in from Albuquerque

the day I left the man I thought would kill me.

We went to the train station and sat

among the Beaux Arts pediments and bas-reliefs

having a cocktail called the Manhattan, Kansas.

You brought a package of fresh tortillas,

some butter, some cheese—we'll survive,

the we a sort of kindness, a kind of sadness.

The drinks were garnished

with shriveled figs instead of maraschinos,

which was a different kind of sadness.

The station was built in 1914

and no one who can remember 1914 is left.

Your eyes began to time-travel

behind your white-rimmed glasses

and I knew you were thinking about your son.

The lives we have chosen not to live

are enough to fill the whole day's trains

with ghosts and ghosts and ghosts.

But there are also people

who have known you forever,

which is yet another kind of sadness

because you've only just met.

     —Originally published in The Missouri Review

Epistle from the Hospital for Harassment

               to B.L.

As in a house of mourning / cover the mirrors / Save yourself from yourself

/ Open the windows / Feed your history to the night / Do not wrestle / against your story / let it keep happening / then kill it— / the poet who invited you for coffee / a manila folder of poems / meticulously typed / and tucked beneath your arm / all those beats and breaks / silenced / as he thrust his hand on your hip, saying Sweetheart, try your hair in a bun / and What about glasses / If you wore glasses men wouldn't notice you so much / Or your colleague who poked / a bruise on your thigh / guessing at its origins / Or the man who made the bruise / Honey, you're not as stupid as you look— / Cast it out / until the night is so full of the feathers of your thoughts / it grows the giant wings of a crow / takes off— / Now lie before the curtained mirrors / Forget what you look like / For better is a wandering eye / than the two you clench shut / waiting for him to finish

                                                 —Originally published in The Journal


     Butterfly rainforest chrysalis webcam,

     Florida Museum of Natural History

I want to see, somewhere,

the hot, cocooned unfolding

of metamorphosis. The caterpillars

are flown in from El Salvador,

or New Guinea, and inside

the dewed glass, shadows

of men in white coats cloak

the tic of emergent wings—

What of the future do you hold

inside yourself? See: if you take a scalpel

and puncture the chrysalis,

it will explode—yellow goo

of cells, burst cells, amino acids,

proteins, here a bit of gut,

here a bit of brain.

A thing builds a shell around itself,

dissolves, becomes another thing.

The way, when you are wrecked

with love, you take only what you need,

you, liquid version of yourself,

all heart cells and skin cells—

here a trough of heart,

here, gutter of liver, channel

of hearing or touch. What remains,

as with the caterpillar, is memory.

See, we melt entirely.

I have been a child, a lake, a glacier,

glacial pool, woman, river of woman,

another woman, an older one.

The oldest scientist asks, if we are all

creatures of transformation,

if we are never quite the same

what are we

when we arrive at the moment of death?

It is easier to think in death

that I am me, but dying. See: 1668.

The Dutch naturalist Jan Swammerdam

dissects a caterpillar for Cosimo de Medici.

And though we now think

everything ends,

turns to soup, to river, to ash

and what's passed is past, he unfolds

the white sides of the insect and reveals

two wing-buds, tucked

tight inside the skin.

Now, as I watch the knife

pierce the chrysalis,

a river of cells swelling through

and out, I remember

what my father once said,

that what you see is only a fraction

of what you can believe,

and against the edge of the chrysalis,

embryonic half-wings twitch

without a body, waiting

for their slow decay, and then

for the next body

that opens itself

to the risk of flight.

  —Published in Marvels of the Invisible, Tupelo Press

The Wolf of Coole Park

On our honeymoon, my new husband

says he misses his children,

wants to go home. The green hills

vanish like animal eyes closing in the dark

of the park's constant drizzle.

I am not proud of my anger

but a lie can turn the body inside out.

My collected Yeats is getting wet

and I hold it inside my shirt like a pistol.

We pass a stone inscribed:

the bell-beat of their wings above my head—

the absence in my belly is the lake's gray lack

of swans, though I think I see something

white and ruffled on the far shore.

The wind, knocking love loose.

I walk the path into the Seven Woods,

wanting to be lost. But he catches up. ·

Then, in the distance, a gunshot—

a growl thickens within the trees.

Did you hear that? he says. Yes

I say, and think all is lost between us.

I will leave him standing there,

will always follow this hungry phantom

deeper into the woods.

       —Originally published in Pilgrimage

Epistle from the Hospital for Text Messaging


              to T.B.

I have made of myself a rabbit.

I can no longer speak. Language

is only the click click click of my heart

ticking faster now.

I stepped out of my dress.

I autofilled myself. I slipped

the gray skins over my head.

I know you love to watch the animal

of me, my fast-pounding brain.

How I enter the garden

to pluck berries with my teeth,

then the (...) (...) (...) of my leaving.

I know you love to watch the end

of me. I vanish beyond the field

whose borders I built

with your thousand barbed unsaids.

I vanish into the sky.

I vanish into the moon,

this lemon slice of dead volcano.

Here I wait, my fingerless ears

poised as satellites, projecting my rabbit-

shaped silence on space's blank walls.

Something I don't understand about myself

makes people want to hurt me.


                               —Originally published in Gulf Coast

The Night I Left

I said goodbye to the boys'

boyless rooms and the stuffed animals

blinked their plastic eyes,

folded their muppet arms.

The towel shaped like a monkey

bowed its flimsy head, the ghost

of a child still dampening its matted chest.

I'm sorry, I said to the towel.

I'm sorry, I said to the monster

their mother had knit in blue yarn.

I'm so sorry, I said to the cat

who sounded his soundless mew,

leapt from the bed, and skulked

out of the room. I turned off the lights.

Years passed. Then I was this woman

saying I'm sorry, I'm so sorry

until it meant nothing, and someone else

came to carry me to bed.

               —Originally published in The Stirring

Giant Squid as Emblematic Feminist

My eyes outsize your wedding china.

I wear my illusion as a cloak. You want to see

all of me? Your silence will unveil

my silver light. The sperm whale: the only one

who can swallow me whole. He wears

my teasing beak as an ornament,

will never unfeel me, never know the lonely

unwrapping of my circled hug. When I wave

to the scientists in their bubble, they say

fan dance, but no, my sway is divination,

the awakening of moon, of carnal light.

Did you know I hold my eggs in my arms?

Did you know, when I let fall the closed blooms

of my tentacles, I am the same shape

as your womb? That I am the mantle

illuminating your face in awe? That I

am a mirror through which you see the face

of the female scientist who discovered me.

That when you see her face, you'll see your own.

Dissect me. You'll find an inkwell there.

Stop looking ahead. Look further down.


                            —Originally published in Redivider

House of Making

Why have we stopped building shrines?

The human body in grief is a shrine.

No, the human body is made almost entirely of water.

The grieving body is limestone and sandstone and onyx.

When he died, I woke and knew. I had not seen him in years.

I searched online. The first result: his eulogy.

The body in love is made entirely of water.

I spent hours watching the radar, waiting

for the pain to curl down as a wave.

The body in death is soil and dust and flame.

What was I waiting for? An answer? An explanation?

When we lose someone young, we want something to build.

The body in grief is mortar and brick and sweat.

When the shrine is built and the buildings are empty, we long for another body.

The body in desire is vein and gall and pen and paper.

You want to know why he left the earth.

I want to know why I should stay.

A physicist has killed a yeast cell, amplified its sounds. Listen.

Many hands clapping. Cicadas. The sound of wings.

The sound of one cell dying and the earth's answering.

The music of one death. All the world continuing.

Yes, the sound of the body in prayer is made entirely of water.

Yes, it is made of yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

                                       —Published in Marvels of the Invisible, Tupelo Press



               For some reason, the early nesting dolls depicted

                    what appears to be a family without a father.

                           -The Mendeleyev Journal




When you take away the children

the mother is empty. Her round head

shrouded in red, her lips thick

and pursed, her cheeks rouged

with big circles of flush. And her eyes—

she is keeping her inside secret.

The matryoshka's arms, creased

with plump, hug

a glossed rose. Sprigs

of cornflower and baby's breath.

If you look closer, a thin line

cuts the rose. This is where

the mother is broken.


I have discovered the mother

inside the mother. Her eyes

are dark like mine. She doesn't want

what is inside her. Her arms:

thin. Her collar: drab.

Her lashes: straight.

Her flower is not a rose. This mother

fits better in my hand. When I pull

her open, she creaks.


The last mother has no arms,

no dress, no collar.

But she is smiling.

She breaks willingly.

I turn her open

and find myself. Each daughter

becomes my mother and I become

each mother. I hold myself

in my hand. This is my secret—

I have seen how small

I can be. I will put

the wooden child back inside me.

And the woman inside me. And the woman

inside me. And the woman inside me.

       —Published in Marvels of the Invisible, Tupelo Press