This selection, chosen by guest editor Katie Manning, is from God Themselves by Jae Nichelle, released by Simon & Schuster in 2023.
the existence of bad words implies good ones. you believe saying yes is good even when you don’t want to. if there are bad girls who curse & spit & sit like men then there are good girls who don’t. you wonder if girls & words are ever just those things without dichotomy. you spend a lot of time closed—your legs & your lips—trying out goodness. god, like any parent, will be very nice to you until displeased, you learn. you say yes, you don’t have much space to take up anyway. it is before the iPhone & you only have 200 texts a month to use sparingly. you make each one count so as not to spark a back & forth you’d have to pay for. never I feel only yes okay sorry. all arguments cost you something. plus, you learn, anyone bigger than you can tell you what to do. a boy bigger than you says be a good girl, don’t say a word. you reassess—there are no good words. girls are good when silent & open at the command of someone bigger. god is good, see how god is silent? you should be smaller than everyone. parents, like any god, speak in parables. bad girls end up dead or on the streets. they do not mention who killed them, who closed their doors. your phone bill comes, rewards your lack of questions. your parents call. you are scared to pick up.
a good listener is just a bad conversationalist. so my arguments with god are one-sided long paragraphs to which I see read at [day/ time]. I am proud to admit I speak enough to have my phone determine my frequently used words. so by now I can use predictive text to pray—
Jae Nichelle is the author of the poetry chapbook The Porch (As Sanctuary) from YesYes Books; the inaugural poetry winner of the John Lewis Writing Award from the Georgia Writers Association; and her poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2020, The Washington Square Review, The Offing Magazine, Muzzle Magazine, and elsewhere. Her spoken word poems have been featured by Write About Now, Speak Up Poetry Series, and Button Poetry.
Katie Manning is the author of Hereverent (Agape Editions), Tasty Other (winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award), and six chapbook collections, including How to Play (Louisiana Literature Press) and 28,065 Nights (River Glass Books). Her poem “What to Expect” was featured on the Poetry Unbound podcast, and her poems have appeared in HAD, Poet Lore, SWWIM, Stirring, Thimble, Verse Daily, and many other venues. Katie is the founder and editor-in-chief of Whale Road Review and a professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University.
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