Clenching my hands
my fingernails leave
purple crescents on my palms.

I count my ribs,
my dog’s shallow breathing.

I want to open my forearm like a letter;
I imagine the skin unzipping neatly
to reveal men,
digging out words from my flesh with
picks and shovels.

My body is a colliery,
for memories I never put on the page,
thoughts that never made it to my mouth.

I rest my hand on my dog’s warm side,
I look for comfort
in the wire of her fur.

The miners tunnel through
the depths of my tissue,
and into the shallow pit of my stomach.

Their spoils are my poems;
coal embers,
orange and lit from within,
verses that glow in their beginnings,
and fade as they lose their way.

My breath cuts short
and acidic run off fills my mouth.

I feel the world’s smallest
canary die inside me.

His yellow body
growing stiff and cold,
a tiny feathered knot
in the left atrium of my heart.

Photo of Jess FiebigJess Fiebig is a poet from Ōtautahi/Christchurch, New Zealand. Her writing has featured in journals such as Aotearotica, Catalyst, Landfall, takahē, Turbine and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. Jess was commended in the 2017 and 2018 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competitions and featured as a poet in performance for the Canterbury Poets Collective in 2018. Her poetry explores themes such as madness, sex, love, family violence, friendship, drugs and dislocation. She teaches creative writing at the Christchurch School for Young Writers.

Fiebig comments: ‘I wrote this in the months following the implosion of an abusive relationship, when I would wake each morning in the middle of a panic attack. I think I have lived with some level of anxiety most of my life, but this was unlike anything I had experienced before. It was an immense wave of dread, that made my body feel uninhabitable. In those small hours, with my dog stuck to my side, I would try to distract myself from that enormous feeling of terror by writing. I found comfort returning to poetry. Writing about trauma and madness has helped me to reframe and reclaim my experiences and their impact on my life.

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Jess’s website