This week in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor Dawn Lundy Martin features four poems by Gala Mukomolova. About Mukomolova’s work, Martin writes: “I have been thinking a lot lately about the brutality of the world and how art, especially poetry, can transform not only ideas but the physical world—material. Gala Mukomolova’s poems turn the volume of language up high and shake the cages of what has become our brutal ordinary. Her poem rattle us into what for me is a kind of beautiful profane, laying bare the complications of desire and simultaneously exposing personal and cultural wound. Hers in a poetry that refuses cloak in favor of reveal. And in pulling back the curtains, Mukomolova provides a tender cultural redress. These poems are a contemporary pulse, a vigilant all-seeing eye.”

from Without Protection

Tenderness.                 Once you read a book. 
                                                                                           It was called Tenderness.

A girl saw a sociopath smile on TV and knew

                                                   her tongue belonged in the gap between his teeth. 

For decades you carry this story because there’s an animal in her you 

understand. It is neither good nor bad
                                                                                               what happens to that girl.


My brother bought her from a drunk at the market, brought her home crammed in a card-board box punched with holes. Pretend it was my birthday, I was the four-year old she was meant for. Fistful of feathers: my cockatiel, my familiar. 

Bright scarf, she un-spooled yellow-green and creased, her wings warped. Teaching her to fly, I made a branch of my chubby arms, nest of my hair. Papa took her up in his large hands and whispered (we thought her a boy) Кеша хороший, Кеша хороший. How she learned to be good: say you are good. How did a bird love me? Midflight. In the crook of my arm, neck, cooing and curled in. How did a bird leave me? I boarded a plane. I gave her away.


Siren, Again

Let me show you what I’m all about how I make a Sprite can disappear 
in my mouth
, Lil Kim has me

thinking about poverty, mine I mean, swallowing improbable shit just 
to get you off.  

I’m getting texts from this poet, she wants to bend me over, fuck me til 
she comes. How does it feel? Fuck me like that? A warrior coming home, 

a young king. Ok, Odysseus, keep it real and live good—I guess. 

Once I opened my brother’s closet and found only designer sweaters: Gucci, 
Armani, Versace. My slippers had cockroach goo on them. We lived four 

to a one bedroom apt. He slept on the living room floor. I’d walk by him 
and the neighbor girl fucking, turn on Saturday morning cartoons. 

She’d blanket his ass, as if for my sake. There are so many ways to learn 
the luxury of a door.

Bet it all, Playa, fuck the price. I think Lil Kim’s talking about a dice game. 
I’m circling my heart but I hate being obvious.

What this poet calls slippery, what I call smart. Like it matters, like I’m not 
pulling rent money out of a dog’s ass. 

I was wrong. I want everything. I want to be fucked like the wife who waited
for her soldier’s return, fucked: the island, the sand, the nymph, 

the lust that strands him. Fucked: the witch’s sword against his dick before she 
opens. Ill deep throat, I’m sayin’

it’s April, 72 degrees, I’m in love and wearing platforms. This song is just like 
my first years in America, the jump off. What I mean is reckless, performing 

a kind of hope.



Winged come land                                                                        out, away from sex
roost my mouth                                                                                                   leaving it 

black bat cloud                                                                                                flower of it
fat rubber shaft

four letter word                                                                       a profusion of flowers
four finger gag

come cave cunt-shaped                                          it was these lips she rouged
lipstain-smeared rag                                                                                 as if a mouth

Strike stone, wood bone,                                                                        mobile flesh
come flame the pit                                                                    flesh made of elastic

turn chicken spit                                                                      to heighten her value:
and split each lip                                                                                              resistance

Come switch                                                                               flowers which shone
Come switch                                                                         in the dark for a woman
Comes/witch                                                                           who shone in the dark

and watch: the mirror bends, O, Bed-shaped boat             the ass, turned
Knot, Sailor, tight around the throat                      loses shape, drawn apart

Here, brass foot                                                           convulsive gesture: pulling
anchor, ankle swell                                                     pulling the branch, the boy

Come brute come violent                                                       whose skin, tender
violet, knuckle-rough                                                                              as a woman’s

I’m infant blonde: weak at the crown,                                                precarious



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).