Jane in Starving Time

Alicia Wright

Jamestown Settlement, Virginia, 1609

We grasp at everything but clasp nothing

but wind. To have had my girlhood
                                                            first at sea
                           & here, in leafy
canopy, silver cedars, oaks &
                           wailing, owls

                & otherwise in timbered dark—

I’m not like them, their island tongues
                             unraveling in colony’s weak net,

vowels slack-jawed with winter’s waste,
                             old words glittering
               like the fishes I did cup in pools

left behind by tide.
                                  Water’s salt prickling
                my lips. Here, like ropes & knots

of guts, like ivy’s rash, I’d learned to read

how bodies are susceptible to change:
                              I grew shadowed
by water’s wane, the curled down corn. My
                chest like wild strawberries sprung,

but barren swamps you could row through
               now won’t bear the heavy plough.

How like my face
                               defleshed
in those
hot seconds
after death.
                   Fresh apprehension, dull cleaver’s

lesson—hunger drives the novice hand
                            that plats my skin like hair,

my brains the fruit of acorn, bright
& bitter boiling out.

No mirror here
for my teeth’s air. No answers
                                            but for all

our beasts are slewn. My skull’s hackmarks
                   & punctures sing

our settlement’s secret song
                             to itself—the role of a berry

             is to bleed in your mouth.

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 36: The meditations of those who struggle continually in the work described in this book.

from Issue 29.2, winner of the Wabash Prize in Poetry.


ALICIA WRIGHT is originally from Georgia, and has received fellowships from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poems have appeared in Ecotone, Flag + Void, Poetry Northwest, The Greensboro Review, and The Literary Review, among others. The recipient of the 2016 Poetry Prize from Indiana Review and the winner of New South’s 2015 New Writing Contest, she lives in Denver, Colorado, where she is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Denver.