Sarah Kain Gutowski

Sarah Kain Gutowski’s poems explore autonomy, ambition, trust, and fidelity (sexual, emotional, and intellectual), and how our relationship to these concepts transforms and alters over time. Through her writing, she scrutinizes the subtle (and not-so subtle) ways people negotiate for identity and power inside personal relationships, and she reflects the internal conflicts we experience when we consider who we are and where we belong in the world. Working mostly in an athletic free verse that has a strong metrical echo, she aims for an exactness in language
and a pleasing precision in sound without being too wedded to the rigidity of form. She moves between narrative and lyric, although her latest project employs the best of both worlds: a verse play about three sisters during and after World War II. Based on the lives of her grandmother and two great-aunts, the play moves between the present and the past, between England and Japanese-occupied Malaysia, and asks questions about survival, loyalty, resilience, and legacy.

The Stories Our Mothers Teach Us

When I was your size and just weaned,
the sow tells her piglet,
I found a hole in our pen and squeezed
my small, round body through.
At first, no one missed me. I ran across the farmer’s fields,
slipped into a ditch filled with nettle and wire,
and then climbed out, skin and snout torn.
Between the edge of the field and that stinging, tearing abyss
I sat, panting at the sky. All the stars tapped and telegraphed
shiny, tinny warnings, but I refused to listen.
The night wind smelled sharp with burning wood
and honeysuckle, and I had to follow the scent.
That was the day I fell in love with blindness,
and the strange way that scent, and even stench,
can comfort us. But I was found, and now I have scars.
May I go into the woods one day? her piglet asks.
It is my duty to deny, the sow says.
Your duty is to listen, and then dig
and dig under fences at night.

from Fabulous Beast: Poems (Texas Review Press, 2019)

Listen To The Shadows

You wake with dream’s odd deformities

crowding your awareness – oversized

hands, clubbed foot, a swollen tongue

that crests the dry roof of your mouth.

In the dark you can’t see if these changes

have truly happened; your hands feel heavy

and throb as if overnight they grew

three sizes. Your toes appear to be

missing from your right leg’s punctuation.

You want to whisper, help me,

but you can’t shape the words.

Perhaps you are like the rabbit

outside the fence, trembling in place,

having just escaped the hound’s

frustrated advances. You blend

with the dark like the rabbit’s hide

blends with the tree’s bark. Stay

very still and perhaps the dreams

won’t find you. Or, maybe, they are

already done with the hunt:

having transformed what they found,

having made you part monster.

If you listen to the shadows

in your room you can hear the dreams

turn from the fence of waking.

If you wait, they will lower their noses

to the ground and sniff out new prey.