Poem of the Week | April 16, 2018

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Mitchell Jacobs. Jacobs is finishing an MFA at Purdue University, where he is managing editor of Sycamore Review. His poems appear in Gulf Coast, Lumina, and New Ohio Review.

Jacobs was a finalist for the Missouri Review‘s 2017 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize.

Unicorn Contortionist

Here’s the moral: a unicorn was not enough.
We craved her mythic body exotically twisted:
back curled backward on itself, muzzle peeking
between her hind legs, horn grazing her pudenda.
Audiences drove home itching, dreamt of new,
effervescent appendages entering them.
Her trainers sharpened her horn with diamond sandpaper,
polished it, applied gold leaf to its spiral groove.
They tied tinsel into her tail. To coax her to bend,
they brushed her hind hooves with peppermint.
Alone in her stable, bent too far, she pierced her colon,
and panicking, jerked and ripped a kidney.
They found her splayed, mouth open, beside a brown-red arc
splattered by her dripping horn’s last wild motion.
She was buried in her plexiglass box, the compact pose
that culminated each show. They snapped her stiffening joints
to fit her in. Hunched, embryonic, she evolves into bone,
her illustrious spine white as sugar, which she loved.

Author’s Note:

One day my friend, poet Audrey Gradzewicz, shared an exercise in which her students would come up with absurd titles and compose poems to follow them. She listed a few example titles, including “Elegy for the World’s First Unicorn Contortionist.” The second I saw it, I knew exactly how the unicorn contortionist would die. “Hey, can I use that?” I asked her.
When writing the poem, I was trying to figure out why the figure of a unicorn is so enticing. It’s just a horse with a horn. We have horses; we have things with horns. A moose is much more fascinating, entirely its own creature. I began to wonder if our interest in the unicorn is exactly because it is the horse we know, plus something extra, something deviant. The deviant horn becomes fetishized, and subject to this fetish, the unicorn’s own body becomes both pleasurable and dangerous to her.