Chelsea Wagenaar

March 21, 2016 Wagenaar Chelsea



She flies south to visit me

though it is deep summer.


Curved in ink

up her hind left shoulder—


its fine filaments splayed

as though in wind-riled disarray—


a solitary plume.




Curved in ink—

needle ink. Jade ink, violet.


Emerald, black.

Indelible accoutrement


to her camisole’s silk strap,

the peacock feather’s eye


will not blink back.

Wielded ink, truth-or-dare ink,


it stalks me, brazen,

will not unmeet my shy eye.


I close my eyes: the afterimage

is green glare, flash of sun


succumbing to horizon.




Truth-or-dare ink.

Truth: in a tattoo parlor,


you can choose your pain,

tell it where to go, what to be.


Dare: against our mother’s counsel,

she’s new in her skin


for the second time,

flesh welted red and tender,


the hurt of what it took to arrive here—

in time, in body—


already vestigial and dwindling still,

like sun-blanked, rain-rinsed


chalk ebbing back into sidewalk,

the last blue silt carried off


in a sudden wind.




Vestigial and dwindling still,

the sear of late light solves


her shirt’s thin cotton

as she walks away from me—


a parsed wing silhouetted there,

faint as shadow, and as fixed.

Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of two collections of poetry, most recently The Spinning Place, winner of the 2018 Michael Waters Prize. Her first collection, Mercy Spurs the Bone, was selected by Philip Levine to win the 2013 Philip Levine Prize. She holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of North Texas, and currently teaches in Indiana. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review and The Massachusetts Review.