Jen Ryan Onken


What does it mean, this life of hunt or beg,
the attrition of incisors and the mange? His office work’s
gone strange. Don’t try to lick where his tail’s been sheared
or the clawmarks under his eye that filled with flies.
He’s walking now but has forgotten how to open up
his files. That black buffalo was strong. She’d never
let him on her cub, though he wanted to hold her
in his mouth. He likes his meat dragged to his feet
and cut up small. Eaten slow. Let him wipe the hard
drive of where impala go. Lay down beneath the glass-
green lampshade beyond midtown’s great gray
outcropping, enough bucks to stretch out full-bellied,
eyelids closing on the TV, golf ball rolling—
slowly, deftly— into its proper hole.


The tusks of female elephants were straighter than the males’. The tusk of the average- sized female elephant yielded five billiard balls. Sales documents of that time often refer to the ivory of female elephants as ‘billiard’. 
~a placard in Stone Town, Zanzibar

To be called the thing 
your body’s used for, 
that’s metonymy. 
I’ve never heard 
a woman called 
Fuck but I don’t 
speak all the 
languages. It’s true 
in English women
call men Dicks.
When I look at
an elephant I don’t
see a billiard ball, 
but marauders
did. Using only her 
head an elephant 
can level a tree
or a hillside. I recall
a coffee table
of a distant cousin
made from an
elephant’ ear. 
Its legs were made
of legs (and feet)
which had thin,
black bristles,
which I in horror 
touched. An elephant
may flap her ears 
before charging, 
before laying you
flat as a table. She
may call you Man
or Beast or she
may call you Table.

Jen Ryan Onken

Jen Ryan Onken lives and teaches high school in southern Maine. Recent poems have appeared in The Night Heron BarksLove’s Executive Order, and on Maine Public Radio. She received the Maine Poet’s Society 2019 prize for previously unpublished poets. Her micro chapbook “That First Toss” was a finalist for the 2019 Washburn Prize at Harbor Review. Jen recently completed Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers.