Jenn Givhan: Excerpts from River Woman, River Demon
Selected by Mish Murphy, Assistant Poetry Editor
Excerpts from River Woman, River Demon
It isn’t the first time I hear a woman howling from the water.
The river that flows alongside my property keeps me close to Karma, even as it reminds me of my apple-cheeked friend who drowned when we were fifteen-year-olds in the girldom-womanlost space where Karma got caught, where she ghosts the borderlands between almost-woman and never. In my Mexica culture, a woman forever yowls beside a ditch bank. Or a girl. Depending on which story you believe. She’s supposed to be a mother, but in some versions, she never grows beyond round-breasted girlhood. She bears the body for mothering but drowns before she’s given the chance.
And as she pulls away from me toward the swampy bottom, before she disappears, I shake and shake the memory, but it will not tell—
Was I grasping for her fingers as she slipped downward, out of my reach—
Or was I pushing her under?
If I say we practice Hoodoo, some folks may imagine tricks far worse than those we typically fix. It isn’t that an outsider’s images of gris-gris, devil’s shoestring, animal bone, or hemp-bound and knotted doll babies for sticking would be incorrect. The fictionalized images come from something real. But they’re only half the story.
A nonbeliever can look away, can go back to their life, as if what they’ve seen or read hasn’t wriggled its way like a worm into the bottle of their bellies. A skeptic can close the book, leave the theater, or watch their television darken like the new moon while shaking their heads and commenting, Damn, that was frightening, I’m glad it’s over, without ever grasping at the reality coiling just above their heads—if only they’d look up.
For us folks of color, conjuring isn’t entertainment; it’s the brass key pointing us to freedom.
Jericho taught me that. How Magick can be, beyond the layers of doubt and shame and skepticism where the white world has conditioned us. When we come back to ourselves, the power and strength are ours.
Still, it’s Magick, not fairytale. It’s survival.
And even Magick with the best intentions has a way of turning dark sometimes, turning ugly.
Photo credit: J. Andrew Givhan
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American and indigenous poet, novelist, and transformational coach from the Southwestern desert and the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices. She holds a Master’s degree from California State University Fullerton and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections, most recently Rosa’s Einstein (University of Arizona Press), and the novels Trinity Sight and Jubilee (Blackstone Publishing), all of which were finalists for the Arizona-New Mexico Book Awards. Her newest poetry collection Belly to the Brutal (Wesleyan University Press) and novel River Woman River Demon (Blackstone Publishing) have been recently published (fall 2022). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, POETRY, TriQuarterly, The Boston Review, The Rumpus, Salon, and many others. She’s received the Southwest Book Award, New Ohio Review’s Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, the Pinch Journal Poetry Prize, and Cutthroat’s Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. Jenn would love to hear from you at jennifergivhan.com and you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for inspiration, writing prompts, and transformational advice.