Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poetry Moment: 'Monster', by Jason Irwin

Jason Irwin at his desk
Jason Irwin at his desk

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, author of 20 books, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

On December 3rd, 2023—International Day of Persons with Disabilities—individuals celebrated the artwork, underscored the difficulties, re-affirmed the rights, and protested the treatment of persons who live with disabilities. Today’s poet, Jason Irwin, writes about many topics. His poem “Monster,” however, powerfully portrays the ways disabilities affect self and family.

Jason Irwin is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently The History of Our Vagrancies (Main Street Rag, 2020). He was a 2022 Zoeglossia Fellow and part of the Poetry Foundation’s Disability Poetics Project. He grew up in Dunkirk, NY, and has lived in Pittsburgh, PA since 2006.

Poetry unleashes new worlds inside us. It also brings our experiences to others and gifts the insights and histories of others to us. Through words, we learn more about what we share as human beings.

In his poem “Monster,” Jason Irwin opens the door to body and brain. Allowing us to enter hospital and home, he also portrays what society either focuses on too intently or refuses to see altogether. Medical and family traumas surface as fear and isolation. Yet, even in these shadows, Irwin bestows the light of poetry.

Here’s “Monster” by Jason Irwin.

I was a zygote then—
a coin in my mother’s purse,
a fish, swimming in the brine

of her sins. I was the tiny monster
growing inside her, always
needing, always reaching.

Then, swaddled in my disfigured armor,
I howled and squirmed. Priests
and soothsayers were summoned
with their incantations and blessings.
But the monster lived, consumed our lives,
and became something other –
a manifestation of our fears.

On rainy nights when the roof leaked,
when the bills piled up, nights I lay
in the hospital waiting for X-rays or surgery,
the monster’s shadow stained the walls.

Sometimes I imagined he was a warden
locking the doors. Sometimes he was the doctors,
with their tiny knives and mouse-black eyes.
Sometimes I swear he was God.


Published in A Blister of Stars (Low Ghost Books, 2016)

That was “Monster” by Jason Irwin.

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at moment.

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.