I Address My Prayer to Myself: Three Poems from Through Clenched Teeth

Sarah Jean Alexander, Lauren Hunter, and Precious Okoyomon

January 24, 2018  By Literary Hub

A year ago, I was also thinking a lot about inertia, and for longer than that, I’ve been thinking about the way beautiful things deserve to show through ugly things. Then, it felt like we were only being shown ugly things. So I started viewing anger as beautiful; at first I just sought it out to soothe myself, then I sought to share it.

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A year ago, I regretted not being vocal enough, public enough, about my unwavering support of women. Inspired by Darcie Wilder’s beautiful, reckoning poem, “Everything Is Dumb Now,” I decided to publish an anthology and donate the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. I started asking the wonderful women writers I knew if they’d be interested in contributing. “What are you looking for?” they asked. “Anything angry,” I replied, “I want the anthology to coalesce around anger.”

I didn’t have a title at first, but as the months wore on, I found myself waking up with pain in my jaw. “It’s going to be called Through Clenched Teeth,” I told Mira Gonzalez, whose amazing illustrative work is on the cover. She started showing me doodles of incisors. As the year passed, and as more women agreed to contribute, we all watched the discourse change, and change again, in ways we had previously only wildly hoped for.

Leslie Jamison recently said, “For years, I described myself as someone who wasn’t prone to anger.” She’d get sad instead. But I’ve always been prone to anger, and now it feels like I’m allowed. I hope more people see this transition as important as it is; I hope lyrical anger can start to comfort and empower the people who have shied away from it. I hope next year we’re taking solace in change.

– Monika Woods

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Through Clenched Teeth will celebrate its launch on January 29th and is available for pre-order now.


How To Keep It Together
Sarah Jean Alexander

You can’t casually tell me that you’ve given up if you
don’t expect me to smother you with the entirety of my
similarly exhausting helplessness in an effort to radiate
some type of comforting mutual existence, cocooning
us both until I don’t know what. I want to tell you that
most days I feel incapable of not holding onto other
people’s pain, I’m sorry. It’s hard to write anything
down anymore without somehow straining every
muscle in my face. Underneath every callus I own is a
pulsing, undead baby blister. I try to cut through to its
juice, and somehow you reach it first. Everything new
to me is only a previously unrealized experience oh
my god. The selfishness I live in.

Tattoo HOW TO KEEP IT TOGETHER across my
forehead in bold ink, and then press it against yours.
When it is warm, imagine what I am like in the sun. I
want to tell you that when everything suddenly seems
impossible, please remember: April 24th, 2016. your
words mirroring mine. your face shining
with a glow I cannot understand. and that inside you is
me, somehow —

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(but if a little venom spits out)
Lauren Hunter

While my whole life

has been a singular question

asking permission for

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each next breath

(not too deep so as

not to offend anyone)

or allow any comfort

on my own behalf,

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i realized that those


don’t have the decency to hide

their hate because there’s no consequence

to their “unpopular opinion—”

no one to make them feel

small and unsafe

no matter where they go or

what they do.


What i need you to know is

that every step i take in public

is the bravest thing

i have ever done.

Every spin

on a dance floor

is a war between

what knows you’ll kill me

and what truly loves

this song. What breaks

my heart is knowing

i’m the only champion i get

in my defense, and i’m not

strong enough on my own. The war

isn’t only with the enemy i expect—

yet somehow i have to win this.

Or die trying.


Precious Okoyomon

my mother got married for a greencard

I mean we’re living thru some shit

big fat pussy clouds / violent season

my mouth is full of colonial regret

i am my mother’s daughter


i ever get tired of punishing myself > nah son

all these bitches is my sons

deified oppression

clenched teeth

I’m leaking everywhere

ain’t my shit sexy

this is what my mother immigrated for

dreams of waking up / eating ur own tongue

i mean wading thru this memory is going to require some bullshit

under the glare of this dimly lit bathroom

snorting coke with this white boi

off this flooding toilet

my flesh in purgatory

new interdependence

I mean my ancestors seem confused

I mean this is the caucasian dream

I am big and round and ready

I mean my lil dark body is twitching

violent symmetry

I am unliving my mother

fed up with my making

I address my prayer to myself

body on it’s knees

/ without memory /betraying body / unearthing light

begin erasure

nothing to write home about

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