SPOTLIGHT: Collections From a Shipwreck by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

A narwhal’s horn is a tooth

There are sprained ankle nights, tripping over your own feet in dark staircases sticky with whatever drink was spilled. Words turn into curses so unintelligible that your mouth makes noise with cheeks coated in cotton residue. In bitter mid-mornings you use hot water to brush your teeth because it makes your teeth feel cleaner and washes out the tornados of whatever was said. Teeth are sharper in the AM after being worn into spikes from accidental barbs that are born in your brain and thought through your fingertips and mouthed along with the typing on the tiny keyboard. Regret is a sword in the shape of a sea creature, and a narwhal’s horn is a tooth that they use to spar with one another. Your tongue swims in the waves of its sharpness, mouthing pleas of contrition along with your typing fingers.

Leaving the Apartment

Leaving the apartment is both a recipe and a spell. Ingredients in a certain order set in threes to unlock the doors that lead to the front stoop. Three cats to find. Three items I need before I go. Three doors to lock and unlock and re-lock in threes to guarantee the cooking incantation of leaving’s labor holds. Half-finished spells are spoiled milk and the number of rideshares that have come and gone while I re-work in threes maps the city in miles lost. Inside. Outside. Inside. A magic wand finger swipe to re-order Uber. Re-find the three cats. Hold my face to their faces and tell them I love them three times. My hand on the doorknobs advancing one twist after the other to complete the cooking spell of loss that comes with leaving. At each door, I say the final words to complete the magic meal of going into the world. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

The broken lampshade cries human tears

Pieces of the lampshade fall like the tears of little kids who always ask to go to the nurse’s office even when they’re not sick. Every portion of its shedding is circular sadness striking in a descent. The lampshade unfurls into its brokenness the same as how ice cream cones are crushed in hard hands. But what if its insides are coming undone to release apparitions, tiny ghostly wisps, into the sugary smelling spots of the soft-carpet-apartment? All the drips create consecrated ground where once there wasn’t but now there are flowering indoor blossoms patterned on the grass green floor from the lampshade’s crying droplets.

Scotch from the shipwreck

Scotch tumbles to the bassinet motion of the sea. Cradling waves inside and outside the glass, it lands in its slotted wooden boxes:  bottles with red wax tops. The crate burrows in a bed of sand that is no color because the darkness is no colors and all colors; and the Scotch is asleep in its blankets of ocean. Sea bugs and deep-sea fishes, adventurers tracing the underwater rainfall of treasure, find the 19th century amber light, bothering the bottles in their slumber, and pour snifters in crystal glasses, heavy as volcanic rock, from kitchen cabinets that no one will ever use again. A school blows off 8th period, or whatever education looks like for fish, and along with their buggy antennae-d buds get trashed—hangovers the next day so bad that one pukes into a little wastepaper basket, kelpy noise from its finned body. The remainder of the Scotch stays in its bed, bright in the warmth of the home of the water—liquid encased in liquid; the whole world is amniotic, and the Scotch will remain asleep.


Affection is a beatitude, and your body is smoke from a thurible, and this is a church where fire makes campground shadows against the green of the bedroom walls. 

It’s 9:00 AM on a Saturday and I put stones in my pocket to worry throughout the day–keep my fingers busy when they’re not tapping out endless messages, holy prayers written in collaboration and dings of texts like the ringing of bells in mass. And every message notification makes me want to jump off the subway on my way home and go back to yours.  

But I do go back home. On the blue couch, shipwrecked and ruinous, I press my fingers into myself: a handshake, a hug. Shut my eyes so hard to see your greenness, a ghost body a city away and the phosphenes blowup behind my eyes as the phone buzzes over and over. I press harder, make friends with a body who feels like a stranger and see your shadow in the clouds and colors of my lids. Attraction is painful and my body is shapeless.  

The trees are falling around West Philadelphia on the block that I live: guerilla arborists, like how one destroyed Marie’s Buick three months earlier. And the echoes of the crash bellow through me as I think of you on the other side of the river. The vibrations are purple fingerprints on my shoulders, and I stay pinned on the couch as thunder rolls through me. 

Smoke fills up all the spaces it visits, every shaky inhalation is a benediction and blessing. Raspy breath is a wish for a ghost to become matter and I reach into my pocket to bother the stones with my right hand. Coiled in the bent twig fingers of my left, the phone buzzes.


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