top of page

Jeri Theriault

Artist’s Statement

I build walls with ripped up cups paper

bags & postcards add charcoal & rage

ink & regret. I hope for the tiger’s

arrival (or owl or lumbering rhino)

to tremble your gaze quaking

color & disclosure. Such a small room

this white page for blue-black & yellow

in teeth & gowns. I put wings

on the tiger. The angel wants grass

beneath her toes speaks on difficult

issues of ascension. She condescends

to the tiger whose earth-muscle

heats this scene. She is the better

hunter. More bitter. Hungrier.

20 Moor Street, 1934

I share this room with Reny

and Wilfred who go to work

before I get up.

This morning I hear Maman talking

to baby Paul through the floor grate

and Papa not speaking English

before he leaves to cut down trees all day.

I like our house even though

my little sister Jo

died here. I like all my sisters

especially Rita and I like this bedroom

full of curse words

and smoke. When I get home from school

I draw stars on the wall behind the dresser

with the soft pencil

I took from the art supplies Sister Francis

handed out. It’s a sin to steal

but I couldn’t help it.

I hum Maman’s floating song

wishing for deep blue and yellow

as I smudge over

the pink wallpaper roses. I draw Jupiter’s

moons like in the book Sister

showed us.

I give the biggest moon Papa’s eyes

sketch stars thick as his freckles.

When the door slams

and onions sizzle and the first step creaks

the stairs I push the dresser back

my sky almost hidden.

20 Moor Street, 1940

Willy and Ikie and Ray serious and laughing

work in the paper mill.

Right now, they’re making a bench

and shelves for the shed.

Me I’m making a new rocker for Maman.

I love how the pine gives in

to the saw the way the plane lifts

yellow shavings

how the wood turns smooth as silk

when I sand and oil it.

We speak two tongues my brothers

and me. Spring-summer-fall

we plant and build with our Papa

still strong at fifty

who works the night shift and grows

heritage roses.

He sings while he weeds. Our hammers echo

down the tight-built street.

Fences tilt toward the river like thirsty horses

and houses lean

toward one another shrugging as if to say

it’s pretty good here. It’s okay.

23 Campbell Street

Asphalt siding and backyard garden

across-the-street Maytag-in-the-yard and down-the-hill

railroad tracks milkweed

and marshmallow

fluff one uncle in the-house-behind another one

up-the-hill half-finished cigarettes

French swear words

and JMJ for JesusMaryJoseph

in cursive at the top of each school notebook page

Little Women and Gulliver The Hardy Boys

The Green Fairy Book and

why don’t you go out and play?

I want so much from the past and isn’t a house a harbinger

of future endings like a child’s

drawing with a lopsided porch

shutters and smoke

curling from the chimney? This is where I live

I tell my teacher or I tell myself

in past tense as I write

another poem titled “from”

or “home” this house a grayscale memory

like a church like the ring

my mother gave me

like a doll’s house

in which I make the tiny plastic mother and father

look at one another make them see

their kids as something

other than

little blue boy and little pink girls in their upstairs

rooms open to the backyard

with always the chance

of falling.

My parents sing in their separate rooms

my mother’s sadness an heirloom

on the sideboard my father’s

yearning a garden

hoe. I renovate the toolshed paint the kitchen

tangerine add a library full

of questions and soft chairs

for the uncles.



Everywhere fill-in-the-blank

petitions full of expected data-

bank designations both words

& numbers—d.o.b. height

gender citizenship—all of it

folded to fit into little boxes for

job apartment loan visa

only the smallest spaces [as

usual] not quite enough for

your favorite color your

grandmother’s raspberries or

where your mother kept her

cigarettes. No confessional nor

the clouds you especially loved

when you were nine. All data

flash-fed into squares even

your face bright little blur

almost unrecognizable closes

& opens new countries as you

fold into your seat on the train

cross borders stamped

admitted & welcomed at last

into a final box even this one a

bad fit mahogany or cedar

some elemental wood with

satin & polished brass sliding

into earth.


Jeri Theriault has received 2023 Maine Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, the 2023 Monson Arts Fellowship, the 2022 NORward Prize, and a 2019 Maine Literary Award. Her poems and reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, The Texas Review, The Atlanta Review, Plume, and many other journals. Jeri’s poetry collections include Radost, my red and In the Museum of Surrender. In 2021, she edited WAIT: Poems from the Pandemic. She lives in South Portland, Maine.


bottom of page