AJ Wolff


The stories that I tell
like the stories that I don’t
crack knuckles under
my chin. They are here

to breathe fire.
            You fear spiders
                        because I fear
            spiders. I say—
I am not afraid of spiders. I say—
                        it is evolutionary.

But I do not tell you about the
colony of bugs that charged
me on your father’s porch
when you were an infant.
I do not tell you about
the cyst that hurt so badly
that I vomited three days
on his couch. I do not tell you
that spiders are beautiful terror.

So you curl up close to me
            chin to nose
and sleep.
            And do not know.



The Not God

Charging nerves
my feet like stems
sink in banks of you.
With echo strums
this river fast
surpasses us,

but you say
that I am the girl
who is always moving
away. Like everyone who has ever

loved me
got swept up instead.

And when I pull my feet from you,
when puckered earth
smacks my heels,
your clay in my palm—

I realize

how God’s hands
                        must ache.

Her throat calloused mounds
over skeletons of prayer
and every shock a knuckle-splint

as she holds this earth we’ve sundered
But I’m not God.
Or your mother.
Or the earth.

So I just

let you sink

And go.



A River is Never Broken

In labor, my veins revolt.
In labor, everything is textbook
but the time and the weight of us.

For two hundred ninety-one days
gravity had threaded purple my arms,
stapled the backs of my legs.
I, an anchor of earth. Her, roots of my scalp.
Her, leaves curled from my fingernails.

But in the sterile white puffs
of drop ceilings and stat lights
cotton-muffled voices
measured out like baking soda
say that I am not.
That my nervous system isn’t
up to code.

In labor, my blood rolls back and forth
like you are trying to pin a river

and you, frustrated, surround me,
take turns diagnosing:
– cracked lamp nails
– stashed mornings, the whites of your eyes
– omelet soft arms
– ammonia in the lashes

In labor, the lit fireworks of my veins tip blood
up and down my arms my vocal chords my
memory of how one moment cracks like your
voice that night at the Hideout, Chicago like
the blue line red line trips to the Greek hostel
like I have something in me sharp and smooth
that you’re afraid of if I ever learned
                                 it burned or how to aim it
so instead         you say         that I
          am snapped wires        that I
am not              the ocean
so I can’t                       hold waves
         like hands.

When I decide to give myself
my blood stops a lot
requires          constant pushing,
that, yes,         it is time
to go now.
Walls of me — everywhere

because I am the river
and the banks.
I am the fish
the algae
the oxygen and the sun.

I am the catch and release of us.

And you are so busy
plugging yourself up
just so you won’t have to admit
that a river is never broken.


AJ Wolff is a Midwest poet/wanderer/human. Her work is published and forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry, The Mantle, Parentheses, Firefly, Arcturus, and elsewhere.