Who Can Say

Publishers Note – I was honored to hear Jennifer Funk read “Who Can Say” at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference last month. As soon as I heard her words, I wanted them in Roar. I had no idea she was as yet unpublished. We’re honored to be her first ever publication. We won’t be her last.


On the back patio are the mothers free of children
holding court and also full glasses of wine, gesticulating to their concordant
frustrations: the inevitable decline of one’s breasts, fault-lines of stretch marks,

but also, too, the rough, first months of miraculous exhaustion that were yet still haloed
with an ineffable, painful kind of wonder, and this is when I leave them
for the other women smoking at the fence

on the outer rim of the lawn, where my own cigarette is immediately offered,
already lit. We whisper our own clouds, the clutch of us quiet
before I am asked about a new job and another is in turn about her mother

who is beginning to forget where the milk goes. We are not speaking
of the ineffable “not now” or “not ever” or “only under these conditions”
or perhaps not alone or when enough has been saved and so on and when later,

a mother finds me and approaches, is “sorry for making me leave,”
her apology seems more admonishment than grace. She wants, I think,
to tell me it’s my failing, the way I flinched, that I should

be proud of them. I say, “I needed more wine,” “I needed to pee,” “I’m sorry,”
and cut around her and the fence and out towards the lake,
only stopping short at cluster of geese roosting. How to articulate

the confusion and rift, their echo-pain a figment of a wish
I do not know how to enact or chance or even assign language to, let alone admit, yes,
to hold in my own arms a body I received, watered? Indefinite and forever

love incarnate? I can only stand to be in love for days at a time.
What say you, clouds, to the querulous posture of these geese? The rich scent
of their fresh shit wafting up from the muck, their malevolent hissing

if one comes too close. What kind of invitation did I expect?
The new-green reeds shivering across the water
don’t care if I witness their tremulous movements.

This tight circle of my life. I have been intent to wish for less,
and what has this restraint cost, what has been left un-called for?
I do not know what I would say to sons, but I would tell daughters,

may you have the dumb blunt will of a tank.
May you have pulpy hearts and sturdy frames.
May your loyalty never get the best of you. May you take down kingdoms.

May you hold your grasp, may you get more than you deserve.
May you wind someone else’s pleasure
round your finger. May you feel no shame for getting yours.

May your mind carbonate
at the sight of green leaves.


Jennifer Funk is California born and Yankee bred. Told by her mother she came out yowling, she has led an emphatically articulated life all the years since. She has received a BA from Bennington College, an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and was a recent recipient of a work-study scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She would say, perhaps, that her poems are an exploration of the sinuous possibilities of the sentence and an endeavor to manifest the ineffable, sensorial wonder of living inside a human body.

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