Listen:

Winds don’t enter the church
I built and condemned inside myself.

I was taught a woman’s body
was reared to bear secrets—

some that should stay a mystery,
even to her. Like when

an animal looks in the mirror
and doesn’t recognize a self.

As children we learn to beg,
say yes. We file out of the chapels

and the classrooms
and learn to spill into lovers,

bur their lips with our phobias,
our leper dreams.

To close off our hearts,
that deep closet of flame.

We start to crave the lash
of nightmares. Imagine

licking up walls, buckling them—
hot with the crush of ignition.

I fled to oceans, I wandered
and found flesh—

some to eat, some to undress.
I fed all of my disappearances.

I destroyed a holy city
someone said was inside me.

Because the Lord used
my heat to accompany music,

because the Lord adorned
my hair with horns.

Because to be penitent
meant being penitent.

Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku. Source image: Library of Congress.

Gabriella R. Tallmadge

Gabriella R. Tallmadge is an alumna of the Hedgebrook Writers in Residence program. Her work has received a Transitional Artist Residency Award from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts as well as a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Georgia Review, Indiana Review, Crazyhorse, Best New Poets, and others.