Jalina Mhyana

My lips survey the length
of a tattooed dragon that twined
your side in Japan, his breath
drawn in flame.

His anatomy coils its axis
about the bright earth
of your skin,
claiming it with flags of fire.
His hubris knows
no bounds; he believes he scales
your flesh with one
hard haunch.

My hunger is drawn by
a current of curiosity:
which strokes are most
sensitive? The dragon’s neck,
or your tricep, trident-cleft?

Though I bite and bruise him,
he won’t fly away.
My teeth nips are battle scars.
His ego swells superficial
as a skin wound.

Blood of an artist’s gun, he’s as slick
as his ancestors who slid
a quill’s rim into
cartographers’ candlelit oceans.

The soft wave
of your back is my horizon,
a flat world with minor
swells, waves of
muscle, foam.

Maps, like fantasy, are never done;
the more we learn,
the farther we’re flung.

Mappa Mundi was inspired by my passion for books of antique maps, some of them so large, I could step through them like doors into imaginary, naively drawn worlds. These maps are embellished with illustrations of dragons and sea monsters, and the words "beyond here be monsters" - which really meant that explorers didn't yet know what lurked in those waters, and they let their imaginations run wild. In my poem, a lover's body becomes my ocean and terra firma. I marvel at how little I know it, no matter how many times I stake my flag.

Jalina Mhyana

After eight hundred years, a fresco
of the passion cycle created for illiterate

believers still spins its cautionary tale.
Above the flaking sanguine tableau

St. Michael weighs parishioners’ sins.
Will it be hell mouth or heaven? Souls

share one skin – lime plaster and sienna
don’t discriminate. With damp and age

the painted dead will fall to the flagstone;
to them gravity is heaven and hell, both.

I was inspired to write The Weight of Prayer after visiting a medieval parish church in Great Tew, Oxfordshire. A monochrome fresco of The Passion Cycle decorates a wall with its red ochre cautionary tale. I've always been intrigued by depictions of souls in artwork; on the facades of gothic cathedrals, in illuminated manuscripts, and religious artwork. The souls are shown naked - reduced to the size of dolls - and cradled in a white cloth as they are rendered up to St. Michael's scales for judgment. I'm fascinated by the idea that they have been awaiting judgment on the church wall for over a thousand years, and now, after so much forbearance, their souls are beginning to flake off the wall. I wanted to write about those souls, to give them a resting place in my poem once the scales fall from the fresco and heaven becomes impenetrable for the miserable dead of Great Tew.

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A poet and essayist, Jalina Mhyana is the author of the memoir Dreaming in Night Vision, as well as three poetry chapbooks, one of which won publication in the Pudding House Chapbook competition. She has been twice nominated for the 'Best of the Net' anthology and several times for the Pushcart Prize. Mhyana holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and her work appears in Structo, Room, Slipstream, Burrow Street Review, and others. She lives in Florence, Italy. Visit her at