Poetry & Environmental Justice: Poems by Jesse Rice-Evans


Each year, we use some of our posts to connect with the Poetry Coalition’s annual programming. This year, the theme is It is burning./ It is dreaming./ It is waking up: Poetry & Environmental Justice. (The line “It is burning./ It is dreaming./ It is waking up.” is from the poem “Map” by Linda Hogan.) We are engaging with that theme through a focus on disability and environment. 

If you are reading these poems on a cell phone or small screen, please turn it to the widescreen view for accurate formatting. 


The Intracoastal is rising, swallowing the edges of the barrier island beyond my hometown. My hometown, emptied of grit, ebbed away. I go back tolook for remnants and find only remnants—eroded oyster shells/ghost crabs/the far end of the beach where the earth changes shape moment to moment.

When I come home, I am in bed for days. Everything still buzzes with humidity, salt air, sandy soil—20 minutes on my parents’ patio yields weeks of sore shoulders, a patch of dry skin between my scapulae.

Recovery often looks like this: horizontal, slow.

I could tell you that I read. I could tell you what you want to hear.
Here is the promise I keep: not saving your number. Scrubbing the thing out again and again: a sea sponge shredded in a fugue. In my dream, other white folks walk cobblestones speaking latin and I am falling over from screaming no one even speaks this language why do we insist on emboldening ourselves that we have invented something that we have ever given without the cost of bodies, incurable illness, horridhorrid horrible

I go by Jesse as a promise to myself. I promise to talk about my trauma, to write about my trauma, but how do I balance this need to be heard with my whiteness, how much space I can take up. Even at the doctor: I perform my doctoral studies look I am (to be) a doctor you can trust me you can listen and nod along.

I will never leave the city. There is nothing to be done.

Will this bone help me carry the whole thing ?


Young Volcano

I borrow oxy from a crip friend;
getting disoriented is my new self-care.

It snows and I smoke on the back porch,
hoping for my guts to river subterranean;

Salt water sea cave, find me slick with wanting
you, with desperation or wanting to move but

trapped, lure diminished expedition, leaving
each evening, most vulnerable as I leave the house,

dropped things mean
muscle relaxers.

Gills hook me to stuff; hope in short supply, an acid
bleaching rocks inside my back. You can monitor me

if you wanna but the closer you look the tauter Ibecome, beckoning, volcanic with tender points,
magma full of

my blood: a dangling artifact of slicker, snottite, gypsum a
gallery of giant conical; I split a xanax, walk home in stars

and a cloak of aloneness, which is ok, a valley gestatinga chain of young volcanos walks me home,
my hand salting

molten, ice spires pristine and untouchable, trauma unveiled like naked mountain cap.


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

after Natalie Eilbert

It’s a good place to start: the edge. With puzzles, coloring, giving yr all, giving, giving. I give as if it is what I was put on this earth to do. I am OK with it. I wear a scarf with Pokémon all over it and no one notices: it’s a floral, not a token of my deep-seated need to connect with the nonhuman, the animal, the nonhuman animal. For a while, I consider how to integrate each of these as icons: my need for Eeveelutions demonstrative of my crave for change, constant change, the only thing unchangeable has to be the thing itself.

I ask myself if I am writing my fourth book and intruth I don’t know. That is OK. My self-worth is not enmeshed with my ability to be popular. I learned early that this is extricable and this is fine that I do not want anything resembling this, that I am just fine as the Independent entity I always have been.

Do not call for my attention: the sure way to not get what you want, to demonstrate thirst for it over and over. I don’t respond to desperation. There is an alchemy to surviving the public: chilled tequila, headphones, CBD, confidence to the point of arrogance. It follows me but it also is me.

Over time, I have continued to be good. I have continued to trust despite it all. You are welcome. I have brought it in as if from a storm: a dew trembles along its skin, its deeply solemn core of knowing it and doing it anyway. The thing that grants me power is also the thing I betray.

Your art does not interest me unless it intends to shred itself into a flay an abject an abundance of pain that revels in itself its ability to be fullywhat it is. I want to feel it. I want to feel. Make me feel it. Make me. Make me feel it all. I want the lurch the yank the sharp the throb the end the end the end the yes

It is OK to hide from it at first: the it unraveled. The it unapology the it no it hinged it younger it spooned it cast it it it yester glow the after that becomes the it the premonition of it the thing you fear the it the proof everyone needed the it the grim the receipts the door left guarded the promise of freedom at the end of the dungeon the dungeon the assassination the alimony the pathology it it it

It bangs on the bar two seats down: it feels heard only when it shouts. It is threatened and it does what it can to disguise it the weakness the weakness the weakness that grows and grows it it it it it yes it


What things can I call mine
when all that has ever been mine
is violence?

Can I own without this heirloom?
What can I own without this heirloom?

All the time I am thinking about my whiteness. No matter how marginal I feel, marginality is not mine. I ask myself: what would it take for this to become survivable? Know that I am most likely to survive no matter how sick I get, no matter how many doctors joke to me about my fat body, my whiteness is still worth saving.

Even my honesty only goes so far: my ability to walk about relatively fearless.

I already know about the cave. When I take us nearby, it is with a warning: the woods move, there are things unexpected that emerge. A warning for moving through the world. Don’t just drop in—you have to come prepared. When you come to a spot where you can fall and keep falling, fall all the way. Then you must climb as fast as you can. Coming to the end feels endless: life goes on while you are inside. We walk through gravel towards the sun one afternoon, but we are still inside, mirroring ourselves back again and again. I know what to expect. I can walk alongside you, whispering advice: just keep moving everything is so heavy but you will make the best of it.

Jesse Rice-Evans is a white neuroqueer poet and rhetorician from North Carolina based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about disability justice, fat embodiment, and medical rhetorics. She's a doctoral candidate in rhetoric and composition at the CUNY Graduate Center, a digital pedagogy consultant, and probably in bed. Find her online @riceevans