Nicole Rollender

Ways of Blessing

Holy nomenclature of firetipped butterflies shining          holy my wet
orchard of abandoned belongings          let me feed the needy with fruit          at least

unlatch my tongue & feed it to a child afraid to name the world
the heart doesn’t run the body          any time the ghost

can unknot from its mooring          eternity & grief both look like water
bless blue-cold midnight          when we light lanterns

from this hearth’s fire          when God’s deathless face compasses
us from darkness to never-failing flame          when I was a girl, I ate meals

separate from my parents so they could talk          holy that loneliness
that hasn’t left me          holy fence broken through          where we see sheep’s

breath          the color of rotting blossoms          we choose to bless
or curse to call goodness or evil                    our worst suffering

is no more serious than one night in an unlighted motel          a bat’s
leg bones are so thin          it cannot walk

it seems unfair          too, the mother who doesn’t know to finger
the sign of the cross on her sleeping child          not entering

paradise by the precision of just one hair’s breakage          but you can’t
kneel in your future beside the fence

you’ll build          post holes filling with rain          the holes I left
in my mother’s bones & the glow          in her marrow bless

beeswax candles at the moment of sacrifice          bless this bed’s wood
this down          shall we have many children here (the gate

to heaven where my husband cups my shoulders)          where my body
houses another body          so I have two names          I’m glad for late-daylight

rusting my skin          that I can still touch someone else          open my body
to a girl child          unmoor her sleep body          holy

her fistfuls of wings          holy her life after mine



My Words Stuck in My Daughter’s Throat

She opens her mouth & I expect a bird’s litany
to dislodge. Her bone instrument

for what is and is not
the truth: we can’t unsee the dead, we can reattach hissing wing

bones to our useless scapulas. She asks who takes time from us—I watch
petals bloom from her mouth into

a perpetual bone-sawing song—with this, she pulls my soul so
through my body, red thread through the needle’s eye. I’ve wondered

if I can live without longing now, for all I haven’t done & may
never: let her sleep curled with a spotted rabbit

we didn’t bring home from the fair, let her sleep spine to my
spine in deepest winter. When her head crowned,

I reached to pull her out, heart erratic as lightning. I called
her my grace, meaning I thought I was barren & yet

I grew a small cathedral, cornerstone her first loose tooth
capped with blood. They used to believe

the uterus galloped through the body, red-sweating. Wherever
it braced, the woman clutched her pain. Lord,

what a fire at the skull’s base as we learn
to mother. Mothering’s undying noose, meaning the first time

I saw her face tinged with ice & blueberries, eyes sewn shut,
it was like the first time I saw the world—my daughter

crossing my borders naked, nothing in her tiny hands. Yet
her fleshy breath still inside me—an echo, disappearing ink,

a snowflake growing smaller as it’s cut out & out
from parchment. & my words stuck in her throat—I confess,

one day I hope she speaks the language I’m still learning,
to hold so tenderly a body made from yours, to also

let your shadow-girl walk free down the road, out of sight.


Nicole Rollender is the author of Louder Than Everything You Love (Five Oaks, 2017), and the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, Radar Poetry, PANK, Salt Hill Journal, Thrush Poetry Journal, Word Riot and West Branch, among others. She’s the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University. She’s the editor-in-chief of Wearables and executive director of branded content & professional development at the Advertising Specialty Institute. In 2016, she was named one of FOLIO’s Top Women in Media. Visit her online at