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Holding Space

poems for Chicken Stars Star Artist Series

by Hnnah Ettinger
with paintings by Emily Crane

Fairy Godmother

The Daughters Song

If you are walking to the door of this bedroom,

She said, and you stand up and leave the bed,
Why would you stop at the dresser over there?

Please don't feed me, I'm starving;

She says to herself, fingers made of wire;
If they never saw her, she wasn't hiding.

The door is here. Walk through it.

Under the stairs we were singing

Nothing was left, not after the fire.
Please don't feed it, she's starving.

Hands on white linen, coffee-colored and

Silken, open and ready for the night watches,
Meditation into sleep, waiting for the sun
To spill over the sky and through her window,
She is a queen, her eyes are sparking flint
And I am at her feet, watching the map
She draws in the air with her hands
Unraveling my life into measurable lines.
I know I know nothing much,
So I pilgrimage to her Pythian side,
Here my future dressed in shadows
Is crystallized in light, and my eyes hurt.
I know I'm right, she says, every time,
Promising not to wait for me if I'm late.
My heart hurts to ignore the dresser,
But here is the door, so I walk through it.

Carry your voice to the finish line, winging

Down the gully to a tree-lined choir,
If they never saw you, you're not hiding.
Tip your hand, we know your meaning.
She wrote her way out of hell on your ire
(Please don't feed us, we're starving).
Skin to the sun, lips on a glass, drinking
Down the ocean as the sky expires;
When they all saw her, she was hiding
We kissed in our homeland's darking
Hour, devouring the past's hellfire.
Please don't feed me, I said, I'm starving.
If you can't see me, I'm not hiding.

Holding Space, November 2016

Madre, on All Saints
O Lord our Heavenly Father,
Almighty and Everlasting God
Who has safely brought us to the beginning of this
This lake is a suburban paradise,
Primary colors growing out of asphalt,
Paddle boats nesting on the shore.
Away from the playground, on the edge of the wild,
Our breath is invisible in southern October air.
We both forgot tomorrow is All Saints, but
He cannot unspeak the names of trees,
As we both wear our mother's hands,
Meeting this day with her lapis eyes.
Ahead, the water flicks open with a slip
Swallows the oaken skins of two snakes
Shivering themselves deep into silt.
Do not be seen, do not breathe.
She is a saint, we say,
"Saint" here is shorthand for everything
Entailed in abnegation:

Erasure of desire in the public face,

Her hands (our hands) held still, instead of up,
Raised to the sky in church or
Curled in the fisted face of things unfair
Long and quiet around a mug, resting.
Her voice is lifted for you and you
And you and him;
Never for herself, not without asking first,
Simple things made thick with apologies.
In the kitchen, that year,
When another autumn was curling,
Petaling the air with leaves;
She lanced me with hard eyes and I confessed
I don't want to be like this
(Like you)
I don't want to be
The last one in the room to breathe.
The snakes match their bed now,
Stoney sleep under our imagined watch.

Holding Space, November 2016

The night has passed away
And the day lies open before us
Let us pray with one heart and mind.
Now, my backbone is thick with green things
Smiling out of earth,
And I walk beside myself this time,

And her hands (her hands)

Move for themselves.

Her hands (our hands) are unchanged,

To myself, at the dinner table

[a history]

They still call her a saint.

When I speak her name,
The people sing her praise.

The empty houses belong to me,

The darkness won't wrap you up--she's mine.

Give us the grace to follow your blessed saints
In all virtuous and godly living
That we may come to joy
Let me see you breathe.
In the double green kitchen, when the hours run thin.
She boils her fears until the meat falls off
And we sit together again at the plastic picnic table
Chipped with childhood paint,
And we return
Without our old selves.
She picks at the bones over our tea,

Grant us this day,



A false start,
I have no words.
Two cats, half a pepper. April's bottle on the shelf,
A knife, clean for now.
Twelve years old: it was dogshit and sad eyes
Sentience returning at dark, the opposite
Of what they say happens to humans.
I ran through the creeks, poison ivy, calling her name.
A sewing room, where no one lost their virginity.
Diet coke in flats, a jacuzzi tub, decorated in dust.
A scale, recently cleaned.

Holding Space, November 2016

Twenty-one: a basement rectangle,

Her mouth set in square lines, eating me whole every
Spitting me out into sunlight, the washing machine
Feet running on the floorboards overhead.
Then it was peanut butter toast, an empty porch
Children's books scattered on a window seat,
Poetry in the laundry hamper, the word
Unanswered letters, the periodic table.
Promise me you'll always hold me when they
Go crazy like that.
"The night everything changed" is a line said as if
It can only happen to a person
Twenty-three, phone thrown against cold tile,
A cat with poker chip eyes,
End scene.
The other ones,
They are all hush, then laughter, then grief.

I said I have no words.

The knife is less clean
Now, and
Tonight I am hungrier for myself
Than anyone has ever been.
Holding Space
It was never an afterthought,
The sitting on wooden benches in
Halls draining of humans
Hour by hour, the choosing
To listen for atonal noises in the night
Matins watching your soul
Expand and expire, squaring off
Probabilities in the dark.
Falling, they say,
As if it could be by accident,
A trap laid by the fates
Who scurry away and watch
From the bushes, laughing
When I land in their pit.
I never fell.

Holding Space, November 2016

I walked in with a bargain
From Hades for your soul;
It was mine if you never looked back.
Orpheus had it easy-The only eyes he had to trick
Were his own.
Plaiting your hair at dusk,
Refusing to cut it for
Possession for possession's sake
Would be the surest way to lose
My taste for the skin under your ear
Arches opening to a labyrinth
Within--the dark
Was welcome so long as it was
Come in, get warm.
Let me feed you here.
There was never a woman
Who waited on a man
By accident.
Take off your shoes, I'll wash your feet.
We never forget the scars of a lover.
Corners on corners, illuminated rooms

Holding the space between your last two ribs

With my fingers, here where I came to hide.
Behind your back, I begin and I end.
They ask
When I will lay off my mourning.
I do not say:
When I forget the smell of his hair, warm from the
She said, her long fingers holding chopsticks
Dripping sauce over the table, unseen:
Ultimately, they didn't tell us that
To be a woman is to be rapeable
And pregnancy, that host and parasite symbiosis
That gives the woman little but
Hollowed bones and varicose veins
Urine accompanying laughter,
A tether to the hours during sleep,
Pregnancy is to show physically this quality
Possessability, inhabitation by selves
Other than the self.

Holding Space, November 2016

Reed-limbs in the wind, her red coat

And eyes snapping with rage
Or perhaps with terror
She will not hold the railings when she descends
Into the belly of the earth at Dupont Circle,
Does not lean on the pole when she breathes
The air of the Red Line to its terminus.
In the chapel, she takes into her mouth
Christ, his name on her lips, his blood in her
Flesh tearing host, bread made flesh,
Hands holding nothing after the words of the creed
Have left her mouth, recycling air with prayer,
Like her mother and mothers before us.
Mary, pray for me, she asks,
A woman asking a woman
To hold open the door for faith
The Madonna full of grace (of child, of silences
Her voice in the text, but asking for nothing for
Not even the wine).
I do not ask questions now, I do not dare.
The way by which we came is lost to me now.
I rode the Red Line last week

And my belly held only myself.

I prayed to Mary but did not know what it could
And she bears a child, possessing herself with herself,
Lines uncrossed by the eyes of a predator.
Mary knew not to ask, for in the asking is the end.
It never mattered if we saw the skeleton
Holding us to ourselves with velvet cords of promise.

Holding Space, November 2016

A note
I came to poetry later than many, only beginning to
write poems when I was in college.
After growing up in a very religious Christian home
where womens roles were strictly defined, having
poetry as an outlet for self-expression without
censure was an important part of learning to be
comfortable in my own skin.
These poems address questions I have about my
relationship with my mother, with the idea of
motherhood, with being a woman, and with the faith
I left behind when I became an adult.
The prayers of my childhood still haunt me. Learning
to make space for myself after leaving the church I
loved and suffered under has been one of the
hardest and most rewarding things Ive ever had to
do, and these poems reflect this tension.
Hnnah Ettinger, November 2016