“Psychogenic Illness I & II” by Jessica Stark

Psychogenic Illness I & II

by Jessica Stark








And another thing: the 60s
               were a great year for mass hysteria.

               Tanganyika schoolgirl (’62)
and a joke gains wind, loses origins.

Traveled downhall, he said,
               pursed the chalkboard.

By the thousand, I
               hear, drank a
               still out of palms that shook.

18 months in ecstasy.

               Couple this tender close to
thrush, breath, rash, tears—

               Whats the saying?
You can’t compare apples to—

               I guess you had to be there.

A less flashy entrance, but same
               what-have-you and 62 falling sick.

               Source by speck, all open-wide—
                            no detection for this flea.

       Bit women hard on arms out-
               stretched over textile, bit so deep
                          they went outmind, all sticky-good.

And damn didn’t they deserve it
               —Ladies making dresses, what next?

               For your touch: taut eyes, and too
                          much love for our sisters—our cistern.

It is more difficult to stop laughing
               during a moment that’s candid—

               an intervention, a funeral, a sacrifice.
Is this thing on?

               Reported dizzy, flu-like, numb, they said,
                             spent days in catacomb embrace.

Love to each Freesia Warmblood & regard
                            that we do sting bc this one came
               last (’67) and they call it an epidemic.

One man, so fearing, turned hooks,
               went fishing line, went shoe-string
all around his genuine member gone
                            wrong, he said, gone missing, gone

N          ow that’s a punchline.

I am not trying to whittle
                photographs out of ghosts

                Or take the wind out of
A perfectly wound spool.

We are small as tree frogs,
               can oppose two fingers
                              in a vise-like grip

We taste eggs from leaves
               and lie open-eyed, restless,

               beneath hearsay and

               around heresy and
                             stifled question:

                                             Does laughter die?
                                        Do gods grow old?

Outside, little girls shoot fat pigeons
like small skyscrapers from above.

Jessica Stark is a PhD Candidate in English at Duke University, studying the intersections between poetry and comic books. Her poetry manuscript, The Liminal Parade, was selected by Dorothea Lasky for the 2016 Double Take Grand Prize and was published in Heavy Feather Review, Volume 5. Her poetry has appeared in PotluckTipton Poetry Journal, and others. You can find her most frequently near a lake or a library.