Jennifer Givhan


Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican American poet and novelist with ancestral ties to the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Indigenous peoples of the Ysleta region of El Paso, New Mexico. Givhan grew up in Southern California’s Imperial Valley to a nurse mother and high school science teacher father. At seven years old, she told her parents she was going to be a writer, to which they replied that she would go on to write the next great American novel. As she got older, however, the idea of a “great American novel” and the way they generally emphasize white, male stories became something she wanted to challenge. Though her small rural town on the Mexicali border had no real access to the greater literary community–there wasn’t much in the way of workshops or slams–her raw passion for writing would propel her toward studying literature in college where her professors would recognize and help cultivate her talent. During this time, she earned a Master’s degree in English literature and creative writing from California State University, Fullerton and an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College. Givhan’s writing is deeply entwined with her Mexican and Indigenous heritage and explores themes of family, motherhood, and female identity, often with hints of magical realism or science fiction. To date, she has published two novels and four collections of poetry, and she continues to work as a mentor through multiple nonprofits and organizations. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her family.


Photo Credit: J. Andrew Givhan


“It’s time you learn to scrub a chicken.”

    Mama rarely cooked after working all day—her heart wasn’t in it.

But a daughter should know how to sterilize


that pink, ominous cavern before she flew

    away to salt her own kitchens: pry its legs apart

& reach inside to scoop as if the bird was pregnant.


When I moved out that winter, pregnant

    & fat like nobody’s business but still too chicken to tell

Mama, I took up with a boy who tore apart


our piss cold apartment looking for the piece of his heart he

    swore I’d eaten. He claimed it flew

into my belly & before I gave it back, I’d need to sterilize


it. So I ran around that damn flat with wipes to sterilize every

    counter & crevice. Not only was I pregnant &

compulsive, but news had spread that flu


had reached pandemic level—this time from swine not chickens.

    I’d read that pregnant women were more susceptible to heart failure.

I figured that also meant the tiny throbbing pink part


in my belly. I never studied anatomy, apart

    from an odd encounter with a college boy who tried to sterilize my body

[  ]. It didn’t work but left heart-


shaped scars along my chest & thighs, each mark pregnant with

    blood, a strawberry patch or the red wattle of a chicken.

I’d begun to waddle around in baggy sweats a few


weeks since seeing Mama. She’d suspected the “more than a few

    pounds” I’d gained, flinging accusations, shredding me apart

for acting the [  ] I was. I’d heard it before—she’d squawk chicken


shrills until I broke down. She’d peck at me to sterilize

    my body like the kitchen, the chicken, my own pink pregnant belly

ache. She’d have had me scoop out my own heart


to make a point. I don’t think I could live without a heart.

    I’d lived without anyone but Mama since the summer we flew over

the Grand Canyon away from dad. Mama was pregnant


then. That didn’t last long. I was eleven when she clawed apart the

    bathroom, not the kitchen, scrubbing the tub to sterilize

it for a bath, I’d guessed. I’d have asked but was too chicken.


The trick was to keep apart from her long enough for my heart to

    sterilize itself & keep that pink baby from cleansers or flu

or Mama’s broken chicken heart. The trick was to stay pregnant.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:



Body & Body Image


Health & Illness

Poetic Form


Literary Devices:


conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie


a line break interrupting the middle of a phrase which continues on to the next line

Extended Metaphor

a metaphor that extends through several lines or even an entire poem


a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi