Jessica Cuello

Bloodline: Menses

I took invisibility too far then could not shake it no names

no words not even No, I am a virgin the time they wheeled 

me naked except for the hospital gown to wait in the hall 

for an ultrasound. They forgot I was there for hours. 

My body chose to bleed then after all the years where I’d 

pretended to be a body that bled, the way I made my body 

believe it had no need. With his wand the technician 

sought my lie but there was nothing inside me no fetus 

no words only pee and my own blood. The appendix 

with its dangle of uselessness had burst days ago 

and spread. Invisible, too lost to diagnose. Just Girl, 

probably pregnant. When I cried as a child my mother said 

You should not be the one crying and my body complied. 

It agreed not to cry or bleed. It put growth back inside.

Bloodline: Name

My mother had three names: her mother’s, my father’s, 

my stepfather’s. Once she went to pay a bounced check. 

THEFT BY CHECK the paper reported in POLICE BEAT 

and her mother paid it because they shared a name, and I 

would have shared their name or blood or the public shame

to belong to them. Are you my mother? asked the bird 

in the storybook, from animal to animal, page after page. 

He walked right by the mother, he did not know what 

the mother looked like. He went on, he went on, until 

the bird found the creature like him, the same body, 

the same name, and when the mother tucked him under 

a wing, her eyelids shut in peace. She didn’t need eyes 

to know him, the animal made inside her. He grew 

without stopping, and even when she abandoned him, 

he wandered and wandered to find her.

From the author: These poems are about the ways we contort ourselves to belong to those who made us–whether by invisibility, physical distortion, or, as in the second poem, a longing for shame that the speaker imagines will grant access to love. The first poem in the pair is also about the ways that girls are not believed even when they do speak. Not being believed leads to interpretations of the world that are deeply internal, verging on the supernatural. That’s where the poem lives.

Jessica Cuello’s most recent book is Yours, Creature (JackLeg Press). Her book Liar, selected by Dorianne Laux for The 2020 Barrow Street Book Prize, was honored with The Eugene Nassar Prize, The CNY Book Award, and a finalist nod for The Housatonic Book Award. Cuello is also the author of Hunt (The Word Works, 2017) and Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016). Cuello has been awarded The 2022 Nina Riggs Poetry Prize, two CNY Book Awards, The 2016 Washington Prize, The New Letters Poetry Prize, a Saltonstall Fellowship, and The New Ohio Review Poetry Prize. She is poetry editor at Tahoma Literary Review and teaches French in Central NY.