Marked | Nicole Rollender

This is a lie I used to believe: The thief
wasn’t nailed to a tree to enter the saved

city, his palms opening
like mouths, like doors. Only after

his hands were marked did a paradise appear—
I miss your bones, he mouths. This is how

the body seems at first, impenetrable—
yet, a woman still sings ghazals

from between your ribs. Here, these women
squat away from the village, hands

pressed into dirt, the bloody clench
and release of babies crowning near long-

haired cows. Their skin unmarked, the village
says, because otherwise the children

won’t be seen by the gods. Lord, I keep praying
underneath this shadow-drawn tree:

praying from a lion’s yellow belly is how
I understand the way godlight watches me. Bless

the dark. Bless the hole from whence we came.
Teach me to float cities, to salt and unsalt

this ancient hammer before it falls to ink-
arrowed chest. I’m saying make me visible.

If we carve saints who bleed into hagiographies
on our backs, is that enough

for our names to be written in the book
of the dead? They enter and exit my body

as smoke. Migrate the translucencies of seeing
to bone marrow, its shadow ossifying

on my spine, dangling femur, on skull. I watch
the secret face I make into my own flesh,

the way I kissed my dead grandmother’s sunken
chest, the lines of her clavicle like outstretched

arms. The women who don’t bear children
are held down and singed with black lines before

they return to work in the fields, skin a book
of illumination: a flame rises and thins. How

I’ll never see the way my life would move
unmarked, the path in moonlight

already full of stones, already stirring.

Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Louder Than Everything You Love is her first full-length poetry collection (ELJ Publications, 2015). She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at

“Marked” appeared MiPOesias in December, 2014.


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