Savagery Quintet

To Grin Macabre


Some are scared of the starved, others

arch away in awe, afraid what we have

will catch. A few hover close, fruit flies thirsty

to lick up tips—hopeful

to become one of us. When your scaffolding

begins to show, it’s not all at once.

First the bottom rung of ribs

peek out like a shy debutante. Next,

maybe your cheek bones protrude

a little more than they should, a sudden

pergola riding where baby fat cheeks

used to pudge (where the apples

once blossomed). Hold out your hands—

press your fingers together tight.

Can you see the rays? Skinny enough

and it bursts like heaven between the bars, only

your knuckles can touch. Beautiful, right?


But here’s what they don’t tell you: People

start falling away as easily

as your hair down the drain. Nobody knows

how to talk to a skeleton. All bones, it’s hard

to work your tongue. Hold on

to friendships. Make love

when your stomach’s raging in the empty.

So let us go,

let me burrow deep into the earth

where I belong and the others like me

turn in their graves, disturb their plots

to grin macabre at the newcomer.



All the Ways


Know that


just because we’re quiet

doesn’t mean we aren’t railing inside.

We ate herring in red coats and I told you

all the ways I’d kill myself, how

your lips were wilder than the moon.

It’s a lie


that we’re born alone, die alone.

We arrive


through slick thighs,

wet bellies, and maybe

we’ll never see our mothers again. Maybe

she’ll stick to us like burned

batter all our lonely lives. And we’ll die


with all those lovers, gone

mothers, animals that licked our hurts

knotted like stowaways

in the most secret

desolate chambers of our hearts.

They escort us, shaking


straight into the luminous.



Should Whiskey Write a Love Letter Back


I love whiskey, adore

everything about it. The ritual,

my favorite dense tumbler, the taste

that brings me back to nineteen. All the bad

decisions rolled

up neat as tombstones. I’m here

for the scent of tar still clinging dumb

to vinyl stools. For the dim

and the din only the last bar

in town without a television

can muster. I love it enough to be whole

with one, some nights need it

to fill me all the way up. When the tour guide

in Lynchburg told us,

with the strong stuff,

you hug the amber in your mouth


along your tongue

for six seconds,


it all made sense. My apex

can tame that wandering,

my body the wild

my parents birthed into me, the root

of all my best failures. It asks less

than a winning bull ride,

this feral purring down my throat.



The Wrong Kind of Indian


I keep the smudged Pendleton blanket

nestled like a Christening gown in the hope

chest. It’s green, smoked

with sage and cedar, blessed

by a medicine man beneath towering

tipi poles staked unnaturally permanent

into the earth. At the time


I didn’t know washing the smoke over my body,

soaking it into my thirsty flesh, it wouldn’t work

until years later. For a lifetime I kept myself locked

into my own hope, buried

in my own safe place, safe choices, safe

dullness. You opened it up greedily, treasures

tumbling like dismissed toys to the floor.


An elder brought you to me, all siren’s smoke

and nature’s magic—neither of us


are the wrong kind of Indian.

When Columbus found me, he thought he’d found you.

He was lost, reckless and foolish like us.

Then again,

what miracles, what marvels, wrong turns

and losing yourself can bring forth.



Spoon Me Out


I saved it for you, the good stuff,

the best years. The crustiest parts

of the walnut bread, the biggest slabs

of the pecan pies, the loveliest amuse bouche

of me—the hours when I’m most alive,

not suffocating in deadlines or tensed

in the pauses before the storms. Even then,

years ago,

before I knew our opening notes,

in the prelude before our symphony, I saved

the sweet spots for you. And I’m not saying

it’s anything special—it’s not nearly as decadent

as others’. My grace falls short and I stumble

like a newborn colt on shaky legs still

wet from breaking into this world. My beauty

is left wanting, an afterthought of sorts.

And I can’t speak


to tell you romantic things, new reasons

why I love you or how your chest still

feels like home. But I can write,

and I’m loyal beyond anything you can imagine—I saved

the choicest meats for you, the prime cuts

from my body, the most tender morsels

of my mind, the effervescence of my spirit, so


cut me deep, tuck into the spread, and spoon

me out, rich and steaming mouthful

by hungry, salivating mouthful.




Jessica Mehta

Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a Cherokee poet and author of six books, including four collections of poetry. She's received numerous poet-in-residency posts, both in the U.S. and overseas, as well as the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund prize in poetry.