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Jill Chmelko

Jill Chmelko received a BA in English/Writing Arts from SUNY Oswego and a BFA in Visual Arts/Photography from Boise State University. Her work has appeared in Out of Stock, Timshel, and The Citron Review. Currently, Jill is the Communications Specialist for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Boise State. She loves reading, tap dancing, karaoke, and cheese. 

She used to be the Editor-in-Chief to the Great Lake Review from Fall 1996 through Spring1998 and was involved in the GLR before then. She graciously recommended three poems for us to highlight. 

  • Sestina for Sadness by amie s. arnold | Fall 1996

  • minneapolis, dec. 16, 1956 by joel b. boyce | Fall 1996

  • Who Had the Strength to Sew Me In by Andrew McIlwraith | Spring 1998

Comments by Jill - "I'm a sucker for sestinas, and this one shifts deftly and darkly"

The bugs escape in shadows, crawl in hollow

corners and yield to light, but wake in my sleep

to slither out of hung pictures and rings

of dirt in the bathtub. Around circles

the bodies falling drunken in drains to wash 

with hair I brush into the basin. I gaze

into the mirror holding a brush, I gaze

and brush with thoughts as tangled as hair, hollow

and brown as a bug sinking into knots I wash

away. The bugs dance and I cannot sleep;

the noise of light and sound flash, the circle

of thoughts too vivid to keep or kill, the ring

of television drowning silence, ringing 

desperate to be heard, a sound. I gaze 

into the mirror, let the brush circle

the sink and clatter down, making a hollow 

echo. The noises I make protect my sleep,

distracting silence that swallows, washing

over the emptiness, the hole, washes

over the place you laid into rings

of dust, of dissolved dreams put to sleep.

I am filthy with matted hair, I gaze

into the mirror until my figure hollows,

becomes ghostly and haunted, dances, circles,

and separates. I cannot brush the circle

of regret falling into the basin. I wash

away the bugs and drown down hollow 

drains of dreams dissolved, I rise from rings

of dirt in the bathtub. Around I gaze

and drunken fall from drains into sleep.

The noise in water parts, recedes, I sleep.

The water in the basin swirls in circles,

the thoughts in silence slips from fingers. I gaze

in darkness turning into light, I wash

the night into day. With the bugs in rings

I silently wake from my icy hollow

The day falls and I sleep, the light washes

the dark circle of emptiness in rings.

In night I gaze in bug's eyes hollow.

Comments by Jill - This piece stirs like a simmering jazz riff.

one and a two and a three

finger pops

and we're grovin'

in smoky darkness.

liquor and laughter

and sweaty bodies

grindin' in salty

darkness. sin and gin

and bodies bubblin' in

the dim-lit dark.

we opened at 

the second hippest

jazz joint in town.

the key club, 

a black and tan club

a night club for whole

and half notes. they're

sittin' and drinkin'

and dancin' and smokin'

and listenin' in front

of the bandstand like

notes on sheet music,

lettin' the music

turn the page. nuthin' but

half and whole notes

being fused together by

the beauty of music.

cymbols were tappin'

people were clappin'

and i was working hard

for my bread. gigs

seven nights, for five

weeks straight. and 

i was workin' hard for 

eighty five dollars

a week, tax free.

more money than i 

had made at one time.

and the ladies were fine,

and i knew who i'd 

be takin' home with me by 

the end of the night.

and then there were

the shake dancers.

we played behind

black velvet and

sandra fields

the body beautiful

their half naked

bodies glistened

under the light like

bright jewels, precious

black jewels and they

were music in flesh.

sun goddesses dancin' in

artificial light

shakin' tits and ass

like the ten cent

vibratin' beds in the 

roach motels we stayed in.

Comments by Jill -  I'm moved by the quiet power of this poem's imagery and language.

My playroom spector is here,

A teasing childhood shadow

whispering rhyme and riddle

and pulling fine hair from a fair arm.

Speech sprays violently

from some discreet corner of this place.

Battered or only pinched by it,

I choke on thought.

Forehead scar a hateful symbol

of careless question mark placement;

I'm stitched to cement walls with twine

and sweating with indetermination.

Who had the strength to sew me in,

The strength and the tender dexterity of grandmothers?

And is my will lost

in the cracked grey linoleum below me?

Or scattered like the toys

of a wailing child possessed by tantrum?

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