The Hudson Prize Winner


ISBN: 978-1-62557-958-4

My Dim Aviary

Publication Date: November 2016


I awoke to rain. Then the sun’s coin slid through a hole in the clouds’ pocket-and out rayed the dazzle, more and more, fistfuls and fistfuls of money I took as the leaves take the light. When I came to Paris, this much was urgent: earn your living or starve. All the boys in my village wanted to bed me, so-let my body be my bread, as Jesus’ body, baked, breaks to be food of our Communion. What union? Baskets of onions and shallots in the street markets. Chanterelles and mousserons. Saucissons dangling from strings-to look at them-almost obscene, one after another, plumped with pork and salt. I close my eyes when I spread my legs and imagine an old butter churn. The handle thrusting down, but below it: myself a cream thickening, smooth as the sight of a seamless cloudbank, cool and blank. There’s a place the soul goes when the body is a field lost to burning. A field of chamomile. Thousands of tiny suns blazing back the one sun’s gaze. Scent of honey and hay. Each plush gold pillow a nub to rub. To have become a common whore. Qu’est-ce que j’adore, l’éclat de l’or ou le ternissement de l’argent? Which am I, shine or tarnish? Summer simmering in an autumn pot, these flowers I take as tea early mornings, because at night I can’t sleep-and because I can’t sleep-


Through the voice of Miss Fernande-Parisian model, prostitute, rumored mistress of Picasso-Gillian Cummings creates a series of exquisite prose poems, thick with longing, loneliness, and corporal beauty. “What color would God clothe me but red?” Cummings asks, offering the body as both wound and source of pleasure, and later, “There is a place the soul goes when the body is a field lost to burning.” My Dim Aviary is that place. Reader, I implore you to visit.

-Allison Benis White

Written under the sign of cauchemar, nightmare, My Dim Aviary inhabits and envoices the mind of the mysterious Fernande, the model who posed for photographer Jean Agélou’s erotic postcards. Creating a voluptuary with humane intent and pathos, Cummings channels Fernande: “So you can guess what I smell like, so you can have more than a glimpse of the girl who won’t, though she undresses, unfold herself from the flat paperboard of the card.” In prose poems of Pre-Raphaelite opulence, lexically rich and layered with French, Cummings blurs the distinction between sacred and profane, the cusp of childhood and adulthood, the divide between voyeurism and performance. These poems return the reader to the kharis in “eucharist” the offering of grace, because “If beauty becomes unbearable, then there’s ruin for the world’s welter of white …” At times almost unbearably lavish, at times harrowing in their exposure of abuse and exploitation, these poems unsettle the nightmare with hope: “Maybe in what you cannot forgive, a small space opens, like the first glimpse of blue when clouds break after weeks of rain.”

-B.K. Fischer

Few books offer the rigor and delirium of myth. Few books are both dreamt and crafted. Gillian Cummings has written one. Her words themselves seem to tremble with the ache of individuation, the estrangement of sexuality-“a swan gouging its breast with its bill.” Searing in its originality, My Dim Aviary is a masterful conception, a trance, a prayer of abandonment.

-D. Nurkse

About the Author

Gillian Cummings

Gillian Cummings’ poems have appeared in BoulevardThe Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, The Cream City Review, Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Linebreak, The Massachusetts Review, The Paris-American, Quarterly West, in other journals and in the anthology Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke (Tupelo Press, 2013). She is the author of three chapbooks, Spirits of the Humid Cloud (dancing girl press, 2012), Petals as an Offering in Darkness, (Finishing Line Press, 2014), and Ophelia (dancing girl press, forthcoming, 2016). In 2008, she was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund Poetry Prize. A graduate of Stony Brook University (BA, English) and of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, Gillian lives in Westchester County, New York, where for five years she co-taught and taught poetry workshops to women at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She is also a visual artist.

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