“Killing the Snake Plant” by Shannon Connor Winward

Shannon Connor Winward


after “Reupholstering a Chair” by Jenn Givhan

This used to be the tallest living thing
in the house without legs. What happened?
You can’t remember if it was over-water
under-light, death-by-cat—just that
you read somewhere the limbs, sleek and stiff, once 
damaged, would never recover. Best to amputate, make room
for the new. Your scissoring left only two fingers 
poking out, a desert of husks 
tiny and curled
on themselves as if flinching. You left them
by the sliding door—full afternoon sun—and you stayed
your lust, your watering can. You trusted
time would do its work. But then you touched one
and it broke. You watch the other, now
worried it too is illusion
that beneath that dry earth lies the loss
of the plant entirely, its leaves, majestic, green
as serpents rising to the ghost of a charm 
that you no longer possess. 

Prompt: “When my children were young, when I was tired and sick all the time and struggling to write, I felt Jennifer Givhan’s ‘Reupholsteringa Chair’ like an unvoiced scream. I tried to learn from what Givhan does with space, and the brutality of lines like ‘Your love will no longer / unclog drains or screw in light bulbs / or replace the hydrangeas you’ve suffered / death in the tiny plot you vowed to protect.’ I challenged myself to start with an ‘after’ to echo those invocations—the quiet desperation of trying to patch together chaos with a staple-gun—but from my own lived experience. That cutting voice of self-doubt became my inadvertent murder of the thing I was trying to save in the poem, and over time the scissoring of couplets became the undulating lines of that long-suffering plant that may or may not be dead in the corner of my kitchen.”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Shannon Connor Winward: “My creative process is a cycle of productive highs and lingering lows. Over a lifetime, I’ve learned ways to navigate a dry spell, such as the use of prompts to encourage words to start flowing again. When I am struggling to find my own voice, it often helps to engage with the voices of poets I admire. I might start with a poem that speaks to whatever it is I feel unable to say, looking closely not just at what the poet says, but how, and also what they leave out.”

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