Odd Sister [Winner of the 2015 ODU College Poetry Prize]

by Emily Duquette

There is a pit at the bottom of your lungs.
It is filling up with forbidden sounds.

They fall not in waves, but as dust,
quiet accumulations of time and change.

You forgot the sounds you could have made,
like skin you leave behind on slick black tiles

or the edges of a tub. There is something
you are trying to say: cough, sputter,

kick out of the pit, but you have forgotten
the sound, the motion of its life. You search

through the debris of noises and you think it’s too late.
Those words have lived and bred in the pit.

You think they are now foreign voices, too high
or too low for your throat, but you are wrong.

The words are more yours than ever.
This pit is where the soul goes when it is bored.

When you can’t sleep it wanders down beneath your lungs,
walks among the dusty sounds, a pool of smoke

kicked up around the ankles, and it listens to the pain,
the lost, the unforgivable, acts audience to the gyre.

The words no longer need you to find them,
they become animals, given time

they become the voice of an odd sister,
living below your lungs rising like a warm humid vapor.

She walks out of you, here in the mist you can finally see her,
the sister of your silence. She is all that you have forsaken,

the wild human things. Still, she embraces you, lets her voice out in moans,
and you hold on to her lint skin, like a precious thing found at last.




About “Odd Sister” Judge Rick Barot said: A wildly imaginative ars poetica, “Odd Sister” beautifully figures the “pit” in the self where the “forbidden sounds” accumulate, where the “debris” of one’s voice, one’s language, and one’s experiences settle.  Out of that chaotic and perhaps maligned space, one’s words arise, the “words that are more yours than ever.” The voice that comes out of this space is, oddly, “the voice of an odd sister”—the odd sister who is kin to Emily Dickinson’s image of the “supposed person” who is the “representative of the verse.”  The poem is about one’s vivid and disquieting inner self let loose, no longer silent or forsaken—brought forth as “a precious thing found at last.”



Emily Duquette is an avid believer in telling secrets, cataloging artifacts of joy, and exploring those things we just don’t talk about. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Old Dominion University and currently teaches College English.