Poetry: Lisa Wells

Selected by Dawn Lundy Martin as a finalist in Omnidawn’s 2019 1st/2nd Poetry Book Prize


It’s the pliant way
to bow to one
who unwittingly put

the child in bed with the pedophile
and drank up her lunch money.

In the unfortunate dive-bar of daughters
descendent of fathers
you must dance with the one that brung you.

It was another life on the highway shoulder
bent in scrap grass collecting
orphaned cans and bottles.

I ate with a mouth, excreted with an anus,
constraints given me before the breaking.

And the breaking is a means of sparing a woman
her own construction.

All roughness done away
nothing lonely now, nothing anymore in pain

Are these specters circled in my train?
Fresh-faced, the exalted corpse
jumps up and lives again.

I’ve come to wash that pilgrim’s feet.


Pilgrim, have you lately asked
what good am I?

To what purpose should I apply
this injured corpus?

I desired to write a history of the wound
but it is.

We used to gather at the rim to weep into the crater.
Not filling it was the point.

Mecum omnes plangite

for the old gods demoted to footmen
in the drive toward unification.

Turned out I’d given my life to something too small.
Bilked by the bad pastor who asked

Which master do you serve?

I served a derivative daddy-type.

Control was the chief delusion.
Numbed out in managing
total compliance to the incursive agenda

went along to get along
and the hand that wounded me was my own.

In the end, all projections erode.

Surrender to the self within the self, zero in on the locus
and take the imago in

                 ingest it. Ingest its

What plot in this?
What balm on the aggrieved?
What fear underneath the fear?
When were we blessed?

Lisa Wells reading: 21. & 22.

Lisa Wells is the author of Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021) and The Fix (2018), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. 

Her poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Granta, The Believer, N+1, The Iowa Review and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle and is an editor for The Volta and Letter Machine Editions.