Jacalyn Shelley

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Terra Incognita

Because Boris the cockatoo elicits compassion
sitting alone in a steel cage,
because the blue lids that surround
his black eyes look exotic,
and he dances to the beat of Queen’s
“Another One Bites the Dust,” my friends ask,
How can you put him in a cage?

Does he dream of kangaroos, koalas,
the blood red boulders of the Rainbow
Valley as my father did? 

Dad told me, I want to go there, one finger
pointed south and west before his hands
danced down his chest, his arms, his legs
as if he were painting Aboriginal white dashes
and dots on his body, as if he could breathe in
sunrise in the bush. 

Boris asks, How ya doin’? like the pharmacy tech,
who, after handing me medicine
says, There you go, just like Boris,
in a voice identical to mine as I drop
a chicken bone into his metal dish.

Are free range chickens really happier?

After I drench Boris’s white feathers
in my shower, he flaps his wings scattering
droplets, his black tongue loosens
and he whistles “Ode to Joy.

Why didn’t Dad open the travel book I gave him?

When Boris comes out of his cage he surveys
my small rooms, rappels back to his perch.
He rests his head between his flightless wings
and one unblinking eye stares at me.

Pussy Bow Blouse                                                    

It was my mother,Artwork by Gene McCormick
no, it was Margaret
Thatcher who thought
her pussy bow blouses
were “soft and sweet,”
not unlike the flamboyant
pink bodice worn by
A Liberated Woman.
One arm extends across
the canvas as if to say
“Look. Here I am
smoking a cigarette.”

I don’t remember when
my mother gave me
my paisley blouse
with puffy sleeves,
cinched cuffs
and two thin ribbons
to tie a modest bow.
She might have called it
a secretary’s shirt,
but I wore mine with
navy blue pants,
not a skirt.

It was in Altoona,
no, it was in Erie, where
the office manager
called me “Hon.”
Maybe I wasn’t joking
with him when I said,
“Back at the home office
they call me Attila the Hun.”

There is little doubt
he laughed, much like
the President caught on
video tape. Yes, he did say,
“You can grab them by
the pussy.” Labia majora.
Labia minora. Folds of flesh.
Folds of fabric. My pussy                  
bow blouse. Perfect in its fit.


Jacalyn Shelley has been published in several journals including Sugar House Review, Dunes Review, DASH, San Pedro River Review, Barely South, Shot Glass Journal, and Pilgrimage’s Injustice and Protest Issue. In 2018 and 2019 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. To read more of her poems go to JacalynShelley.com.