top of page

5 poems

N I K K I   U M M E L



My bag of waters burst like the water balloons

I imagined you’d throw at sleepaway camp or

Unnamed Best Friend’s Bat Mitzvah.

That moment pealing in me, even now.

The silence in this house is loud. And all I want

is to lay in puddles of sun but sometimes

it does not feel good to be seen, so I draw the shades.

It’s almost your first birthday.

I buy a cake at Canseco’s, plant a pink curlycue One.

If you were here, you’d fat fist the frosting that matches

the color of your crib, Sherwin Williams’ Heaven,

hand-painted by your father. In the shadows of the house,

I eat your cake alone.








There was the piano by the door. No,

not a piano, a keyboard. A piano. He sang

opera songs for fun. For others. Professionally.

For me, in secret. Played the piano like a cabaret.

The piano, purely decorative. Part of his ambiance.

I told him no. I told him not now. I told him too soon.

He hailed from Turkey. He drove a fast car very slow.

He listened to his car better than he listened to me.

Stroked the car like a cat. A parrot. Stroked me.

Like a pet. Another fine feathered thing. I told him

I’m tired. I told him not without a condom. He purred.

He growled. He ran a bath and told me to rest. The water

too hot. Hundreds of candles. The water cold. Me, shaking

ripples. The candles wavering. He wet a wash cloth

and squeezed it over me. He was standing.

He was kneeling. He washed me pink. No,

that’s not how it happened. There were no candles.

It was dark. I was cold. He never called again.










And morning wilts into evening.

And the fig tree heavy with burden.

And the chickadees got god in their mouths.

And I come from swamp mallows.

And I’m one-and-a-half lab rat.

And the taste of tomorrow.

And my full lip quiver.

And I tried sitting down.

And it didn't agree with me.

And the oak tree disguised itself as a chestnut tree.

And the men next door have hooks for fingers and vacuums for eyes.

And I have an inconveniently trembling hand.

And I don’t want to come back human. One time was enough.












Someone forgot to whisper your death to the Blue jays and so

they continue their calls, throats humming with life.

Today the fruit trees are heavy with glory, delicious

with shade in the backyard you’ll never know, your death

the down payment, my only inheritance tucked in the folds

of grandma’s final days, left to you because she’d already forgotten

you were gone. In my house that you do not know there are many shadows

formed by slatted windows crouched against oncoming storms. There are

many shadows and all of them are you, trapped between what is coming

and the inability to stop it. If you could have walked, in the end,

you would have gone out crouched, fists poised to strike,

like you did, once, when the priest at St. Francis loved

your song, his humming hands trying to tell you how he hungered

for life. How you hungered for life. One of your shadows lights a parliament,

another rummages the pantry for leftover pecan pie,

humming the Beach Boys’ "I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times."

The shadows come and go, carry comfort, call to the Blue Jays,

listen to the hum of life, to you, singing,

beyond the kingdom of the living.

the swamp mallows lean & listen


so many things were signs. the plucking

of eyelashes. the round ball of grief in my belly,

sudden onset wallow. a constant need

to check the window lock, oven lock, window.

fresh mourning like linen, shroud, baptism whites.

i gush newness. i am a reservoir of water.

so many said something wasn’t right.

the form asks if my favorite poet is raymond kertezc

and do i enjoy stamp collecting? i leave my hair near the mallows

for the robins. the nurse with soft hands and kumquat fingers

asks me to separate myself from sickness. this is how i go missing.

this is my inheritance, all wet eye scatter.

mama cursed me with hope.

i am still here.






Nikki Ummel is a queer artist, editor, and educator in New Orleans. She has been published or has work forthcoming with Gulf Coast, The Georgia Review, Black Lawrence Press, and others. She is the 2022 recipient of the Leslie McGrath Poetry Prize and 2023 recipient of the Juxtaprose Poetry Award for her manuscript, Bloom. Nikki is a poetry editor for Bear Review and is the co-founder of LMNL, an arts organization focused on readings, workshops, and residencies. She has two poetry chapbooks, Hush (Belle Point Press, 2022) and Bayou Sonata (NOLA DNA, 2023), funded by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. You can find her on the web at

bottom of page