Black Hunger: An Excerpt from Chelsea Bunn’s ‘Forgiveness’

The Coil
The Coil
Published in
4 min readOct 30, 2019


Poetry by Chelsea Bunn

Saint Elizabeth

When we speak her name, we are
so quiet, the air around us distilled.

He says, It’s worse at night, and I know
that means he wakes up, she’s gone

from the bed they shared for decades,
and he can’t stop sobbing. We are

standing in their kitchen, every-
thing of hers still in its place, even

her cell phone silent on the counter.
What color is this? he asks, and reaches

for my hair. I don’t move, my back
to him, my body tense in its own sorrow,

and I feel his fingers drift over the tangles
hanging down my shoulders. For a moment

I am in some other place, in danger —
of what, I couldn’t say — but I try

his grief therapist’s exercise, repeating
to myself I am here, I am in my body, I am

breathing, and then
I understand that all this is

is just one man
missing one woman, a loss

in which I play an incidental role.
It’s not mine, none of this is,

really, and he says, I’m sorry —
I miss certain things
and I say,

I know, although I don’t, and he’s moved
away from me now, rifling through a cabinet

for tea, crossing the room to open
a window. It’s spring: a far cry

from the bitter January morning
when we buried her. The singular fact,

both a shock and a comfort,
that time moves on, that so much

time has moved on, and still so little, rarefies
the air sweeping in to touch our living skin.

Image: Finishing Line Press. (Purchase.)

To Excess

I swallow flames.
I vibrate

like an atom, even
at absolute zero. I spin

like a leaf in a wind
tunnel. I deny myself

bread, meat, water.
I have no need.

My body knows
what to do to stay alive.

I soak up poison
until I erupt.

Do you think I care?
Watch me vomit

on a public bathroom floor.
Watch the rage

spill from my mouth
and watch me

turn away. I storm
across hemispheres

just to say fuck you. I
thunder I cyclone I

drought, gust,
monsoon. I disturb

your atmosphere,
a gravity wave born

by force. I keep
everything I feel.

I order my world
by sewing quilts

of blackened memories.
What is it

that I want?
Give me sweetness,

a steady hand
across my forehead.

Give me
what I deserve.

Give me
a dark room,

a decade,
a divorce.

I will bear it all and then
come back for more.

Last Call

I begged you not to let me go,
made you weep as if grieving
a loss on just your third day without me.

I sank myself inside
your memory, so that all
the men, all their faces,
the places you’d been, that long hour

in the evening, the prospect of being alone
drowned in me, blurred.
I wasted you. Ruined
dresses, whole mornings, a marriage,

almost. Left you
thoughtless, graceless.
Wrecked you. Had you
believe you’d never learn to leave.
Turned you sour, an angry bitch at thirty.

Pickled you wicked, fearful. Let you
cheat. Took your balance,
took your time & blotted it out.
A black hunger at the core
of you I filled.

I made you ache
for me. Whispered wishes on your lips,
rippled cool beneath your
fingertips. Made you dirty, got you lost.

Watched you drive with one eye shut
in broad daylight, weaving
down the road that led to me.

When it came time to pay,
you felt ashamed — flushed,
you flickered weak &

trembled, your every nerve lit
by plain, absolute longing.

CHELSEA BUNN holds an MFA in Poetry and a BA in English from Hunter College. A two-time recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, her poems appear in Best New Poets, Sooth Swarm Journal, Cover, and elsewhere. She serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing for Navajo Technical University.



The Coil
The Coil

Indie press dedicated to lit that challenges readers & has a sense of self, timelessness, & atmosphere. Publisher of @CoilMag #CoilMag (