Poem of the Week | April 08, 2019

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Prom Queen(s)” by Alicia Elkort and Jennifer Givhan!

Alicia Elkort’s poetry has appeared in AGNI, Black Lawrence Press, Califragile, Georgia Review, Heron Tree, Hunger Journal, Jet Fuel Review, Menacing Hedge, Rogue Agent, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Tinderbox Poetry Journal and many others. Alicia’s poems have been nominated for the Orisons Anthology (2016), the Pushcart (2017), and Best of the Net (2018). She lives in California and will go to great lengths for an honest cup of black tea and a cool breeze.

Jennifer Givhan, a Mexican-American poet and novelist, has earned an NEA and a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship. Her books include Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize), Rosa’s Einstein (2019 Camino Del Sol Poetry Series), and two novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee (Blackstone Publishing). Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, The Pinch Poetry Prize, the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize 2nd place, and ten Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review. She lives near the Sleeping Sister volcanoes in New Mexico with her family, and can be found discussing feminist motherhood at jennifergivhan.com, Facebook, & Twitter @JennGivhan.


Prom Queen[s]


We didn’t want to be queens                 Not then—
We wanted not to be hollowed, not to be buried
alive.    & when they wrapped us in tarp & threw us to the ocean, those
boys/men who’d shamed us deep     [water silence]     into brittle bones
where we’d hidden our wounds                 we wanted
our mothers.

Tahlequah     killer whale mama carried       her dead calf                         17 days
nearly starving [nearly drowning].       We know our mothers would have mothered
us         if they hadn’t been wrapped in their own shame tarps which they gave us, like cherished heirlooms.

Late at night       when we cleanse the day
a warm shower       we women carrying the ghosted girlchildren
into the baptismal font, oceanography of what pasts we’ve dredged,
a whalebone
weighs heavy on our chests
pearlescent horns breaking the jaw’s surface                 splintering baleen-
[one of us was called blubber & one of us sardine                  & neither asked to prom]
vitriol still stored in our cells     through generations
of girlchilds—

We sing to each other                 sometimes
our voices are sweet       & other times     we stab                         & we claw

In our dreams we are crowned
& we know crowns don’t matter     not really
not to the gloryseed of us
so we teach our daughters                 Dance
dance your selves to the music you create                 & the seawaters
rising will never drown you
Let us be seen   Let us crown


Authors’ Note

We have spent hours sharing our girlhood/womanhood stories with each other, finding healing, comfort and celebration in the way our stories merge and overlap. One place of convergence is this: neither of us went to our senior prom. When we realized this, we wanted to braid our different experiences. So our poem addresses the various layers of trauma that we have sifted through in our histories—both personal and communal, as survivors—and comes to what always feels like a remarkable and necessary truth in both of our lives, one we need to continue reminding ourselves and each other until it sticks, not just in us but in our daughters, nieces, friends and also the young women we mentor. We women/girls carry within ourselves the glory, the praise, and ultimately the only crown that matters.