Erinn Batykefer

Jane before Her Mirror
Far easier when I was always merely warm enough not to die—
when I subsisted on weak coffee and blackened gruel, broke my teeth
on the mill-stone gravel baked in the bread, and not enough of it.
When hunger was familiar as breath, a lack like comfort.
Not one hour ago, I was but fingers and a face, my hair plaited like mail,
and when he called for me, I skimmed over the study's thick rugs
as if footless, a conduit cased in a plain stuff-dress, anchorage-gray.
And then, his open hand gesturing to a seat so near the fire
my petticoats steamed when I rose again.
What is this curse? A life spent cold was never so cold
as now, my skin lamp-like and fulsome, foreign. 
I can feel my feet.  
Yes, far easier when I was patient and good and hungrier than you might imagine.
My body a walled-up room in which to obediently wait.
My penance now not endurance but a language like poverty—
what balmy shore is this, distinct from any travelogue? What white in-curving beach,
my waist, what fluted structure, my throat?
World of burning weather, of flushed tides of blood.             
World of strange birds that are never quiet, not even in the dark.


Rochester in the Garden

Like all good epics, there is a journey into the underworld.
Months, no one found her or any trace, and most imagined
that night like vapor, said she stepped from her skin
and walked bloodless into night—
yet the hall echoed like a cave to be entered,
the garden’s bright flowers withered to leggy green stalks
reeking of scrap pile, guard dogs.
The master’s study was brittle with his reading:  the metamorphoses, the myths.
He stalked the corridors, the grounds, bits of string
trailing from his pockets. No one knew what he was about,
but then, did anyone ever?  Anyone but her?
The north tower shook and groaned,
the bubbled panes thinned toward the earth, warping what could be seen
from high windows: faces pocked and eyeless, bodies
disfigured by a sunspot’s fractured, reptilian shimmer. 
There was no getting around it: the crossing must be made unmade.
To journey bodily among the coin-eyed shades, one must leave behind
a ghostly vapor to roll through the garden— how else to find the way back? 
From the windows the servants watch,
believe it merely mourning that clothes him in gray, makes pale his face.

From the Author: These poems grew out of a post-first-book slump during which I watched a LOT of PBS and wondered if I would ever write again. I watched the BBC production of Jane Eyre during an ice storm one evening and got the idea to write a series that harnessed the violence of Bronte’s love language. I meticulously re-typed the entire novel and wrote poems along the way, absorbing the voice and the claustrophobic mania of the love story. I turned Rochester into a shade, and I turned Jane into a vulture to eat his liver, a songbird ready to be crushed in his hand, a fairy queen taking her throne. These two poems were written in different parts of the project, but they still speak to each other in a way that feels like there is an artery connecting them.

Erinn Batykefer earned her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of Allegheny, Monongahela (Red Hen Press), The Artist’s Library: A Field Guide (Coffee House Press), and Epithalamia (Autumn House Press, 2019), winner of the Autumn House Chapbook Prize. She is a co-founder and editor at The Library as Incubator Project / I Art Libraries, for which she was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker. She lives in Pittsburgh.