Poetry: O. unilateralis by G.J. Sanford

Names are invasive fungus and sestinas are just tough games of poker—so goes G.J. Sanford’s new poem, “O. unilateralis.” When we look, when we trace backwards from our own small handed mothers: what do we find greenly crawling up the roots of ourselves?


O. unilateralis

Sometimes what’s synonymous with mother
is absence. Naming is high stakes poker
and it’s all-in for the wandering child
for whom every new name strikes the brain
like jungle fungus finds ants, lays down roots
and steers through eyes dark in permanent dream.

I like to think of ants and their death dreams
bc they’re small. They have but one mother,
an aging queen in love with the way roots
can find their way in darkness, with poker
and nicotine’s unique hold on the brain.
It’s easy for her to not name each child,

but once she thought numbering worked: 1child,
2child. This became useless as a dream
when integers nearly housebroke her brain,
when she all but forgot her own mother
and spent each night glued to loser poker
hands, bluffing through the curse of liar’s roots.

My mother’s memory when uprooted
and calcified renamed me Angel Child,
a mistake I understand in poker
is called a bad beat, the player’s green dream
consigned to trash heap. Not that my mother
let on much, but I knew we shared a brain

unto ourselves, a two-person hive mind
that couldn’t help but to bow to the roots
of ancient weaknesses passed from mothers
to daughters. In the ground, sometimes, each child
is born female; life then a kind of dream:
full boat with four queens rowing. Shit, poker

again. I’m sorry. There’s a hot poker
fear uses to brand E-X-I-T on my brain
while I search empty for girl ghosts in dreams.
I recognize in the lowest root
of myself that had she lived on free, child-
less, she may not have missed the word mother.




G.J. Sanford

G. J. Sanford is a queer poet and writer birthed and corrupted in Nevada's high desert. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Potomac Review, Lady/Liberty/Lit, the Meadow, Rust + Moth, and others. In 2019 her manuscript PARADIGM TEMPORARILY UNDER CONSTRUCTION was selected as a finalist for the 2019 Akron Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from the University of Nevada-Reno and currently resides in a tiny femme cave with her feline muse, Finn. She is, with writer Logan Seidl, co-editor of the Vitni Review.

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