A Poem by JJ Peña

May 18, 2023  By Literary Hub

fragments from a wedding


& a funeral

my sister janice is getting married. she’s being passed around like she’s bread, & everyone’s butter, complimenting her hair, her make up, her dress: a pearl’s insides. she’s blow-fishing BIG with love— laughing HAHAHAHAHAHAHA—& you’re telling me you hate weddings. i don’t get why we still do this, you say. i never want to be given away. i only owe the earth my body. [1]

everyone’s raving about love & i mention how i once read you can measure a couple’s love by how much water they make together. the science is in the hands. palms should be leaking.[2]

gravity’s not kind to my tía sulema’s joints, so she’s a fucking bitch. as soon as she arrives at the wedding, she’s criticizing my haircut, pointing out my acne, judging my shoes, raging, WHY ARE YOU WASTING ALL YOUR WONDERS?[3]

you ask me how grad school’s going, & i tell you i’m being fucked by theory & dead poets, & you laugh. then, you tell me about another kind of fucked—how this morning a stranger keyed YOU FUCKING SLUT onto your car while you were getting your hair done for the wedding. which you don’t cry about or make a fuss over. instead, you say, some people need to practice magic & seek help.[4]

snap snap. i take photos of you & my sister stacey at the wedding alter. snap your arms are paper-clipped together, mouths flirting mirrors. snap snap. my sister grabs your waist & your bodies form a loving Y. snap snap. my mom, a bystander, swooning: THEY LOOKS SO BLESSED. snap snap.[5]

you question why i’m not looking to date anyone, & i tell you that my last ex said sleeping with me was like trying to sleep with a dead body. which we both laugh at. & then you hug me with wisdom: men are ragge you’ll be fine. you just need to dance yourself clean.[6]

during dinner, you say you know the equation to living—it’s noise. not the noise in songs, or words, or sounds, but in bodies. why do you think we’re obsessed with each others insides?[7]

my step-mom’s in wedding wine bliss, crying & squeezing my hands, promise me you’ll find a boy. i just want you happy. your alone scares me.[8]

as we get drinks, we talk about a couple that jumped off a hospital building to their deaths. the reason: they had too much debt & didn’t want their children ruined. instead of judging them, you surprise me & say, that’s what love is.[9]

we take over the dance floor & jam, our bones indulging in movement. you film everyone with your camera, & for a moment, we are a tapestry of soft bodies bending into knots.[10]

we all have sparklers in our hands & wave off my sister janice & her husband as they leave. we’re bright wishes that follow them into the night. & as they fade into the dark, i see you & my sister stacey kiss, soft & full of corazón.[11]


[1] you’re dead in your casket: face butterflied up in earthy colors, body folded tidy like a blanket. people are staring at you as if you’re a poem. i can’t look at you: your skin seems fried & i was taught poems only enter us through breath—& you have none.

[2] during an anthropology exam, i wrote an essay on how death’s a performance. i don’t remember my grade, but i remember my professor writing, grief’s an anthology of noise, if you look & listen closely.

[3] my college roommate claimed he could lucid dream—cocoon his consciousness out of his skin & fly across the dreamscape. sometimes, he’d catch glimpses of people traveling in the distance & chase them. only once did he talk to one, a pink-haired boy who asked him, have you seen my body? i can’t find me.

[4] whenever I was sad, my grandma would tell me to pretend we were made out of masa, so that i could pound out all the bad & shape myself good.

[5] two guests are pointing at stacey, whispering to one another, that’s her. that’s the girl who broke her heart. that’s the girl she killed herself over.

[6] my grandma’s theory—unfinished people die with their tongues hanging out of their mouths. i’ve always wondered if people are born unfinished or become that way.

[7] after a bad hookup, my bestie texted, I HATE DATING. im supposed to clean myself out every time i let a man inside me just so another guy can make a mess. I’M TIRED OF CLEANING PEOPLE OUT OF ME. WHEN WILL IT END?

[8] in one of my anthropology class, my professor lectured us on what it means to survive, after a classmate confessed it was too sad to think about how much the natives lost. my professor replied, its only sad if you dont think of people as continuous. she’d go on to give us an analogy: if you throw a rock in a river, is it still a river? we nodded our heads. exactly, it just has another rock in it. people are like that too.

[9] my sister’s staring at your corpse, whispering, i don’t feel her anywhere. her bodys an empty nest.

[10] one of my writer friends swears the beauty of poetry comes not from the head, but the belly. & i can’t help but wonder where beauty begins and ends in the body—& where all yours went.

[11] an early memory: my sister stacey pretending to drown while swimming with me. she sunk herself under water & didn’t come up, & i shook her & shook her & shook. she only rose when i started screaming. she laughed & laughed, & when she settled down, she said, we only empty if we let ourselves be—she took in a huge breath— you just have to stay full, like this. she swallowed even more air, her chest big & mountainous.

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