Slam at the Benton: “tops of trees”

by Jillian Cundari (2017)

tops of trees
by Jillian Cundari

today for the first time in a long time I saw the tops of trees.
I rolled to a near stop in drive at the top of the hill
to see the trees and farms

rising in heaps and the bubbling people, pushing through the top
like a bulb
from tulip.

I thought of Mom. the plastic tarp white by weather, the kind you see on afternoon       drives, was

covering something and it was held down by tires.

Thought it was the bodies
of dead farm things.

I aimed the wheels between the jaundice, just before we go
full yellow

I thought about the pile, after that until I called Mom and she told me
she had a pneumonia and I lay on my back crying, flecks of mascara in pools of me

by a hose, rolling onto the pillow, the corners of aged glass on starch

it was a yellow afternoon too. I consider who I love most in the world

drooling from the trees
like the final pitter-patter of
rain ever.

watching again, I see how air purples out from between the smallest spaces like

sweat between fingers in a peace sign
until it turns fevers up blue and falls back into the hill, dancing like

with bitten grass and biting animal

I pity that purple, sucked and bruised and tapped like maple,
Snacked on
by bark and the eyes of the looker

The gas is so thin now that I can’t help but
see myself, in my mothers’ old horned-rims,
lubricated by the oil

of my too-small nose

Told her to try and cough up the mucus until finally it happened and I
rewound the small intestine like yarn around my wrist, collecting and collecting
and collecting until I command the inside and she can’t unravel anymore


Jillian Cundari reading her poem, “tops of trees” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Brandon Marquis – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio


Meet the Poet: Jillian Cundari 

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto and Creative Nonfiction Panelist Brandon Marquis sat down with Jill to talk about her work and her writing process.

Nicholas DiBenedetto: Tell us a bit about yourself: who you are, your writing, etc.

Jillian Cundari: Well, I’m Jill, I’m graduating this May, I major in English and Human Rights, and… I only really write when I’m feeling very sad or very scattered. That’s when my best writing happens, I would say. I usually write early in the morning as well. That’s when I’m fresh.

ND: Do you think you use writing as a coping mechanism?

JC: Oh, absolutely. I feel like it gives you a chemical burst in your brain and… it pieces together all the confusion that I have, every day.

ND: Do you get any kind of a similar burst when you’re showing your work to other people or performing it for other people? Or is it just the burst of writing and getting it all out?

JC: Well, I feel like when I’m reading my work out loud honestly I’m like, (shudders) Am I gonna mess up? What will they think? Yeah I think it’s definitely a rush to put yourself out there in a different kind of way.

Brandon Marquis: What’s special about early morning? You said you do best poetry in the morning; what’s special about that?

JC: I feel like I write in the early morning because it’s before I care about anything, and I feel like when I’m trying too hard or I’m caring… whatever I’m writing, it’s not authentic.

ND: Where do you think you draw the line between being honest with yourself and with being a craftsman in terms of your writing and crafting a poem? How do you navigate that gray area?

JC: Well I would say that when I write—just in general—it’s more of a free association. I’m not really thinking while I’m writing; my fingers are kind of doing it and then I’m like Oh, this is what’s kind of coming out. And so, it really just depends on how I’m feeling, the level of craft and the level of pure emotion that’s coming into my poems. I would say that I tend to more air on the side of craft, in that I’ll go back and I’ll be like Well, this isn’t right for some reason. It’s usually because I’m not being fully honest with myself or with what I’m trying to do with the poem. I feel like emotions sometimes come after, at least in the way they end up in the poem.

BM: This is just a really broad question; do you have any funny stories or little tidbits about writing? Just any funny little scenario, or even just like a small thing that’s important to as you define your craft?

JC: I don’t know about funny; I feel like my poems are never really funny. That’s not really your question, but I feel like, for me… Bruce (Cohen) said something to me that stuck with me; he said Write better poems and I was like Ah, cryptic, but kind of helpful: when you know there’s something that’s not quite right, but maybe you can’t say to yourself This is bad, and sometimes someone says it to you, you’re like Oh, I’ll just write better poems and sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.

ND: What are some of your biggest inspirations? It could be personal stories, people in the writing community you look up to, or just reasons for why you’re writing.

JC: I feel like the moments I’m most inspired to write are when I’ve been outside and when I’ve been looking around. For me, writing is about being receptive to what’s around you, and so, I feel like my better work comes from when I’ve been around my family and when I’ve been outside. And usually I think it’s a pretty common trope in my poems to have, like nature mixed with family.


Jillian Cundari is an eighth semester English and Human Rights double major, and is a member of the Honors Program. After graduation this May, she hopes to return to UConn to earn her Master of Public Administration and Master of Social Work degrees.

Jill is the recipient of the 2017 Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize, Third Place. More of her work is forthcoming in the 2017 issue of the Long River Review.

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