Jan Bottiglieri


He gave me this task as if becoming
myself, into myself, were not enough:

that was how I saw it, at first.
I carried it like a stone too great to set down.

Then one day I began it, as if by accident:
animal, I said inside, to distinguish my hunger

from yesterday’s hunger, which I came to call
fish. Then bird. Then beyond bird to singbird,

then tiksharoo, berrythroat. After each word
that creature would come to me, leaping

into vision from what had been before
just a blur of what I called first green,

then celedon, clover, myrtle, pear, longleaf,
riverwater-in-evening-sunflare until

what I came to call a voice said, maybe you should stop.
But I had set that stone down hard,

and in time the gifted muscles of my naming
first trembled then flew with the lightness of it:

only after leopard did each crowd of black flecks
assume the shape of my fingertips. O, praise,

I name this: bigger than need or want
and in the end, that is the test of it.


love people

who agree with us
about the world.

You write
                If they stabbed me to death on the day I was born, it
               would have been an act of mercy.

Wah, you cried, we all did. Who would call it forethought?
No one would

do as you say – not father, doctor. It wouldn’t be
the nurse that pulled the small knit hat

onto your squalling head
or onto mine, the same. Even blue:

Franz, they told my first mother I was a boy
before whisking me away for good!

What do we know about mercy, really?
We only mean ourselves.

And what do we know about that?


Jan Bottiglieri is a poet and freelance writer from Schaumburg, Illinois, and an editor with the poetry journal RHINO. She has  a MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, and some pumpkin muffins in the kitchen if you’d like one. A few of her previous publications include Rattle, Margie, Court Green, After Hours, Diagram, and Bellevue Literary Review.