Jen DeGregorio


Jen DeGregorio’s poetry and prose has appeared in Able Muse, The Collagist, PANK, The Rumpus, and other publications. She teaches writing in New York and New Jersey and runs the Cross Review and Reading Series, which seeks to bring New Jersey and New York poets together west of the Hudson River.



As soon as I opened the apartment door
I knew. Kitchen chairs askew and so
close to the edge of the table
that a passing train's rattle might've
tipped it, a blue bowl
from which the scent of milk
soured the air.

The living room shelves
had a rifled-through look
with mail stuffed between books
spilled onto the floor. Had my bank accounts
been breached? Checks seized? But the letters
were all sealed, dusty in the window's weak light
under which one plant—brittle, yellow—
wanted water.

What did the intruder want
if not the accounts? Something quick
to pawn? Yet nothing of value
was gone: flatscreen, laptop
unplugged on the couch. In the bedroom
rumpled sheets, pillow blackened with what seemed to be
mascara. Mine

or the intruder's? Strange
to think of her like that. As someone
with a face. As a woman
who wept at night, feeling
alone in a stranger's apartment.

Something in literature that has always interested me is the uncanny. I admire these lines by Rilke (translated here by David Ferry): ‘Look here, look at my hands, / They look like wet toads / After a rainstorm's over, / Hopping, hopping, hopping.’ I've been reading a lot of Rilke translations (my favorites I've encountered in general are by Stephen Mitchell), and this dissociative quality found in many of his poems is something I've aspired to. I think I deliberately set out to write an uncanny poem with ‘Intruder.’ At the time I was thinking of the peculiar feeling that comes when I have spent time away from my home, then return with the feeling, or fear, that someone has been there in my absence, or even that the apartment –in its state of mess or disorder –couldn't possibly belong to me. I'm also interested in the idea that it is difficult to see ourselves, our flaws, clearly or recognize them at all. If one could properly dissociate –without going mad –one might be able to see oneself. I think the speaker of ‘Intruder’ is both trying and not trying to see herself. If she sees anything, I don't think she likes what she sees, or she fears what she sees. Or maybe she sees something that isn't there. Who can be sure?