top of page

"Jellyfish", "Fern, Essentially", "Writing My Will Without You" Robin Kinzer

CW: sexual harassment, chronic/potentially fatal illness, and pornography/pin-up girl culture


After the really dirty and exhausting parts

of the day, after cleaning up dog poop and

walking a pair of pit bulls who have been known

to chomp at ankles, I fold periwinkle blue and

lime green towels, pockmarked with bleach stains,

in endless succession. We need hundreds

of them to fill up the cages. One for each cat,

five or six for a large dog. I am folding them

while listening to Tori Amos on the cd player

when you ooze into the room. All beer belly

and bad attitude, you eat hot sauce on everything,

and ask things like: Since you’re bisexual, do you

just have threesomes all the time? And: When you fuck

another girl, which one of you gets the dildo inside them?

But today, I am not so lucky. Today, as I fold

towels, you edge slowly closer to me, and say:

I hear you’ve been talking about sexual harassment.

I’m going to show you a thing or two that’s sexual.

You back me into the washing machine, your gut

against my hips. I flinch into silence.

That’s right, you say, I’ll lock you in the cage with them

angry pit bulls. Don’t think for a second I won’t do it.

I ride it out like you’re a brutal wave caught on

the rocks of the Cape Breton cliffs where I spent

the storm-scattered summers of my childhood.

I remember the water used to look like steel tipped

with cloud-froth. My sister and I would dance

like sirens in the waves, moving our hips

along to the beat of Madonna. We held

jellyfish in the poreless palms of our hands

because they could not sting you.

Fern, Essentially

Blink, and I’m an adult, discussing the price

of asparagus over cream-sharp Indian take-out.

My mom, infinitely able to make things more

beautiful (who do you think accidentally spilled

the entire damn glitter shaker into my soul-soup?) says:

asparagus, unchecked, left to grow, essentially turns into fern.

I picture a verdant web of vegetables turned

fern finery, wonder if it could crawl up walls

the way my mother’s autumn fern clung to recycled red

and black brick. Twisted for a moment in childhood

reverie, I cannot stop smiling, except then my father

announces he may be dying soon. And I do.

Writing My Will Without You

On our first date, we each found one thrift-store miracle.

We clutched clammy hands, darting across the streets

of Southeast Portland. The sidewalk flung before us,

sun-speckled like a freckled arm. Rummaging through dusty

rows of dresses, a vision in vintage whispered to each of us.

Yours: A skirt made entirely of blue, teal, and purple

neckties. Handmade, no tag. Stitching delicate

as cursive handwriting. Wearing it, you shimmered

like some sort of post-modern mermaid. Necktie scaled.

Mine: A fitted black glove of a dress that exploded below

the knees. Layer upon layer of slowly brightening pink.

Every single pinup girl curve kissed close, then a cotton candy

eruption fluttering around the calves. I felt like Marilyn.

This is the day I think of most often, on nights I can’t

help but remember you. When you first left, I began

to wonder if I was made of icicles. Shivering under comforter,

that whole first month apart. Chapped lips, soundless sobs.

How strange that you don’t know about this new disease, or

that it could kill me. We once went to the same doctors, took

the same pills. For so long, you scooped the very marrow from me.

Now, portioning out my belongings, each pillow or end table contains

some slivering of soul, yet you are not named among the thirty-six.

You, who used to send me daily selfies. Lips puckered

and glossed. Sprays of rainbow eyeshadow. Hair, a peacock

pompadour. I can’t bring myself to delete your photos entirely,

so my phone still plays tricks on me. Phone haunts me,

phone decides your face, split open with laughter,

will be the photograph of the day. You leapt onto

my screen the other night, twenty-three and incandescent,

the purple-teal skirt made of ties kissing your bony hips.

Suddenly, I needed a word much bigger than nostalgia.

I needed to relive that Portland moment so badly,

the blood in my veins began rushing backwards.

My bones turned into numinous clockwork, nudging

us back to the year 2004. And there, I loved you.

Reckless, foolhardy. I loved you all over again.

Freeze Frame

“I don’t know how long regret existed

before humans stuck a word on it.

-Jeffrey McDaniel

The edges of the photograph curl,

smooth surface worn from sixteen years

of finger strokes, sticky palm prints of desire.

Gloss flattened, reds and blacks no longer

richly saturated, whites gone ghostly grey.

I run my index finger along the penciled arch

of your raven eyebrow and down your cheek,

willing your smile to leap alive.

That summer, we spent hundreds of hours vamping

for my camera. We tied candy ropes around

each other’s carousel curves, then chewed

them off. Your glow-in-the-dark skin draped

across the pale of my porcelain. Your clitoris

blooming, a wild iris beneath my tongue.

I kept the lens of my beat-up Canon eternally

on macro, shooting close-up after close-up.

White wall, black amp. White guitar, electric.

Slicking the pout of your lips glossy red,

I squeezed a few more scatters of scarlet

into the black and white worlds we created.

A waxy apple, a tiny bottle of crimson rum.

I fell in love with you through a viewfinder,

watching as you devoured a raspberry donut,

or blew a kiss. I fell in love with you

as we fucked from every angle we considered

camera-worthy, then pressed our bodies together

in ravenous slow motion, once the camera was off.

In my basement darkroom, you slid your hands

around my waist from behind. We watched

as paper dipped down into developer, and found life.

The red safelight illuminated the hollows in your

cheekbones. Made your skin pulse and shimmer.

When three a.m. came, I snuck back up

to my boyfriend’s first-floor bedroom.

Every night I watched as the cracks in the ceiling

resolved into Brontosaurus, vole, Little Dipper,

wondering what you were doing one

floor beneath. Every night I slept in fits,

thin cotton sheets tangled at ankles by morning.

A trail of lurid red roses curled

their way down the ancient staircase carpet

that led back to my basement bedroom.

That summer in Portland, we made an island

of that dusty basement, with its peeling

blue and green walls, its glossy black floor,

its ten dollar thrift store mattress.

We hung dozens of still-dripping portraits

on wires strung from cobwebbed corner

to corner. It was past midnight, a June Sunday,

when you pointed to my favorite snapshot of you,

said: I’m beautiful there. You make me beautiful.

Sixteen years later,

this single photograph is wasp

in mind’s amber, even when I’m not

pressing palms to it. I wish I could reach

through the image, and pull you

back to me. Wish I could undo

the noise of all the years that came between us,

and freeze frame us in that single photograph.

You, neck tipped back until it appears

impossibly long. Left eyebrow arched,

cinnamon stick eyes tunneling into mine.

The incandescent swell of the moment

spooling open between us.

Our lips about to meet.

Chestnut Oak

This particular and glorious tree is found on the

campus of Sheppard Pratt Psychiatric Hospital;

the largest free-standing psychiatric hospital

in the United States; founded 1853.


Zelda Fitzgerald once stayed here, only later

to perish in a fire at another hospital. Awaiting

electroconvulsive therapy, flames shot through

the dumbwaiter, clever and cruel, chewing into one

room after another. Even the fire escapes were wooden.

Crumbling to ash between clutching fingers of nine women

who died that night. I try not to linger on this. I like

to picture Zelda lounging under the shade of my favorite

tree on campus. Sipping lemonade, or tossing back vodka

from a flask she snuck in strapped to thin thigh. I picture

her decked out in satin and jewel tones, sprawled beneath

the enormous chestnut oak. Grey branches clustering,

then shooting skyward, a sparkler’s silvered spray.


The pandemic begins. My therapist and I meet outside,

six feet apart on the picnic bench beneath the chestnut oak.

Humid swell of masks bubbled around mouths. The shade

of the tree cools us even in ninety-nine-degree weather. We talk

about my father’s mortality, my mother’s anxiety, the man who

caved in my egg-fragile abdomen with his fist. My therapist wears

over-starched, bleach-white button-downs, and insects crawl all

over him. One week, a small brown spider. The next, a ladybug.

He smiles, That’s luckier. Lets it race across his open palm.


Legs vised tight, I sit under the chestnut oak with my fiancé,

sit at cliff’s edge of losing him. His cello-low voice dips even

deeper than usual. He’s drinking again. Has to leave Baltimore

for rehab. A psychiatric hospital romance— deemed doomed

to fail. We made it two years, made it all the way to matching

white gold rings, dreams of tulle gowns and blue plaid suits.

I loved him so much, I was willing to have a giant Catholic wedding.

But the pull of clinking wine bottles and furtive bathroom cocaine

won out over our love. Our initials, carved into the chestnut oak,

bear witness to the hospital’s rush and tumble. J.M. + R.K.

in rough-hewn heart. Our love lingering in grey bark.


I swore I’d only allow myself to be admitted here again

when my mother died, but nobody saw this zebra of a disease,

this twenty-seven in a billion coming. Hospitalized again, Zelda

hangs heavy on my mind. How often F. Scott Fitzgerald was cruel

to her. How she danced and danced. Cried and cried. The impossible

horror of dying by fire, alone, just forty-seven. Forty-one myself,

I walk toward the chestnut oak. I forgot the slope of broken concrete,

bursting with slippery grass, and strapped on four-inch platforms.

Glitter-pink, foolish. Outside only thirty seconds, I fall— computer

screaming through air, books tumbling through grass, knees scraped

meat-raw. I begin to weep. Instantaneous. Is this what it means to be

here this time? Must I learn how to pick myself up all over again?

Robin Kinzer is a queer, disabled poet and sometimes memoirist. She previously studied psychology and poetry at Sarah Lawrence and Goucher Colleges, and is now an MFA candidate at University of Baltimore. Robin has poems recently published, or shortly forthcoming, in Wrongdoing Magazine, Fifth Wheel Press, Corporeal Lit, Defunkt Magazine, Delicate Friend, and others. She loves glitter, Ferris wheels, and waterfalls.She can be found on Twitter at @RobinAKinzer


bottom of page