Tigers for Tamir Rice

2017 Greg Grummer Poetry Award Winner, Chosen by Monica Youn


Jennifer Givhan

My last time in the underworld I followed
       a tiger          the book said tigers could be
shapeshifters          could be carried

to their beds          the hemp of their claws
       like stripes on a tiger who’d come to bring
a balm          I’ll tell you what I love

into a field         a bus of tigers lets
       them off          with their schoolbooks their lunches
my own tigers expelling their milky jasmine

outside those monstrous hills
       I couldn’t fix anything           not one thing I
told the tigers get your best good fur

the sticky holes in my heart &
       the tigers dug a too-deep hole in the dirt
it smelled of rain          that metal in the mouth

& the branches held their buds like
       ticks on skin          bulbous & bloody
the book says the tiger is a very good

mother         will defend her cubs          the clumped tuft
       animal grief makes of protest

an old wives’ tale says if you’ve stolen a
       tiger to stop the mother tearing
you apart          throw a mirror in her path

she’ll be deceived
        her reflection is her tiger
                                                                 the book thinks mothers are fools

the last time I died it was defending what I love
       bulbous & bloody the book says of a field where tigers
are lined up & killed

       where it stops—  So I went


Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American poet from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize) and Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Series, University of Arkansas Press). Her chapbooks include Lifeline (Glass Poetry Press), The Daughter’s Curse (ELJ Editions), and Lieserl Contemplates Resurrection (dancing girl press). Her honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship, The Frost Place Latin@ Scholarship, The 2015 Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, The Pinch Poetry Prize, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, AGNI, Ploughshares, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, and The Kenyon Review. She lives with her family in New Mexico.


Monica Youn’s citation for the prize:

“The hypnotic rhythms of the poem create a spell in which guilt and fear and love and sorrow cast moving shadows across the imagination. As a tribute to a murdered boy playing in a park, it weaves together rage and tenderness into an artifact that is as gorgeous as it is troubling.”

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