Mudlark Poster No. 58 (2005)

Jenna Cardinale

It is Better to Marry than to Burn
What Ceremony of Words Can Patch the Havoc
Stalked | Weightless | The Magician’s Girl
Cast the Stillborn in a Sheer Plaster
Wake | Character Problem | Settling on Leaving
Her Kept-Woman Years May Have Been Her Best

Jenna Cardinale’s sonnets appear in recent or forthcoming issues of 42opus, Coconut, Court Green, and Dusie. Her work in the sonnet form has been supported by a BRIO grant from the Bronx Council on the Arts.

It is Better to Marry than to Burn

The trim of her clothes determines how well
she knew the dead man. She stops by the wake.
Looks at the place setting. Says you can tell
who laid this table. The china is fake—
And the cups!  A wet cup means a wedding.
A white cup means a vacation. It’s so
hard to be proper. They changed the bedding
after. I hope. The wife wears a hard blue.
Is there pleasure when there is a passage.
There is when every room is open. She
moves up and down the stairs. Waits on the ledge.
He doesn’t come. She wouldn’t want to be
the center of attention. He can’t leave.
He watches her straighten her black skirt. Grieve.

What Ceremony of Words Can Patch the Havoc

Like a sunset going to sleep, she was
too dead to come to me. I watched her eyes—
their lids quick to cover her up because
she could only seem to see thick white skies
curded over with clouds. Then I’d forget
her, listening to the just-cut flowers
sipping their liquids. In the bar I’d bet
her brother she’d survive, hold the powers
that had pushed her. She couldn’t succeed at
most things, but suicide. A hospital
hardly seemed appropriate. Somehow that
seems appropriate. The damp capital
of her country surrendered then, when I
wouldn’t listen. I wouldn’t even try.


I am my own master of memory.
I can recreate the colors of your
license plate on command. My diary
marks your movements. I record each dull chore,
the texture of your truck’s interior
and the many small gaps between your teeth.
But you have made me as inferior
as a pink teenager lying beneath
a man. This writing’s more frightening than high
school. The yellow light I carry will last
a long time. I keep it on when the sky
is still map-blue. I split open my cast.
My arm looks new. Now even tragedy
has become traditional. Let me see.


They suffered the loss that cannot be weighed
or measured. Their regret was packed tightly
in the small suitcase, in the mums he paid
for before. They had not rehearsed nightly
this ritual of holding her bent tin
body together. She’d worn a version
of purple and tried to expel it in
a flicker, a hurry. That excursion
got them nowhere. And where was that classic
country death watch. This was the second one.
Half their deaths were still to come. Please don’t stick
anything near me again. I am done.
This crisis was caused by simple math. Said
labors leave a heaviness like sharp lead.

The Magician’s Girl

She uses pencil, but she presses hard,
determined to make an impression. My
tree stays tree, she quotes. Boiled, salted Swiss chard
serves as supper nightly. She wonders why
she pretends to like it. Oh— that man. She
must yet win him to his knees. I wonder
if he’d forget me if I undid me—
the locks!— and stood back like a kind thunder
and turned into a tree. She thinks his force
might fit the shape of her sleep, her thought. But
she records her own coldness, like the Norse.
I shall be useful when I lie down, strut
into finally. Soon I plan to be
the magician’s girl who can’t flinch or see.

Cast the Stillborn in a Sheer Plaster

End it, he said just as soon as now. Go
on. You know that blankets are warmer in
summer. And the winter is hardly so
lovely as the start. The weather was thin,
so I agreed. But I refuse to read
the prediction book anymore. What did
it tell us. Not anything we would need
to know in advance. As if it could rid
us of this. The world is still full of sharp
edges. The danger scrapes the white light from
walls. But he was willing to play the harp
in the dark like a lullaby. Try some
sweet rum on the tongue and you’ll sleep, he’d say.
My horoscope hints to leave late in May.


He photographed my mourning. I could not
contain my teeth. Hidden in the closet
in my pocket, I found my flask and got
it open easily. She lost this bet
on living. She would have smiled, too. I wore
sanguine taffeta to her hospital
room, but bearing bright eyes became a chore
I could not master. This plain recital
of ending offends me still. She once went
to Caracas, a city that sounds like
a wooden instrument that has been bent
into something unsure of itself. Strike
outside of your shape, she’d said. And all this.
Suddenly not fizzing at all like this.

Character Problem

She believed in obeying the gnarled nudge
of a random meeting in a parking
lot. She had a tendency to misjudge
men who appeared interested in marking
her. There was the journalist whose typing
shook her mandarin tea. And the thirty-
four-year-old with the fake ID, griping
about her catholicity, dirty
feet in bed and the way her eyebrows did
not match each other when she looked at him.
She had to redecorate, so she bid
on color. She won, left and had a slim
moment. He hadn’t risked enough. She gave
him the canvas, touched his face, said “Please shave.”

Settling on Leaving

He picks her up, reads each page of her like
she’s a polyglot whose nuance improves
her story. They ride along the turnpike
together. She watches as his hand moves
further from the steering wheel. She is more
awkward than a fire hydrant in his arms.
She faces the window, handles the door.
He cannot tell from her text what alarms
her. She's been written on ersatz paper—
she’s laminated by the rain. The screed
addresses the surface of her caper.
He’s sure there is a reason beyond greed
for her surrender of the settle down.
She may have drenched herself so she won’t drown.

Her Kept-Woman Years May Have Been Her Best

The sweater either belonged to a dead
man or a man who lost a lot of weight.
She puts it on, flattens into the bed.
She’d found it in her new room, in the crate
where she'd sensed a scent that never fades from
skin. The stitching reminds her of a walk
along the silk road. Who beat the tin drum,
hummed of a wide island. Didn't they gawk
at her. She’d had to exhale in stages.
Now she wonders about the man who wore
this thin wool. Had he other light cages,
or was his cologne the effective lure.
She accepts this cold gleaming loneliness.
She drops his sweater. She keeps on her dress.

Copyright © Mudlark 2005
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