“They say Jack the Ripper was England’s first serial killer, but that’s only because the others have been forgotten for a hundred years…These quieter killers were poor, migratory, humble. They fed their children poison. They were desperate…They were women.” – The Big Book of Female Killers: Mary Ann Cotton, the Arsenic Queen
Just my body swimming deep below my skin
and the splintered wood above my bed:
Husband Will went to sea. I dreamt
that water swallowed him
brine preserved him
and mermaids delivered him
blue and hollow, to my door.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a candle to light you
to oceans in my womb,
oceans in a hot cup a’tea. Husbands
for a ha’penny, a ladder made
of little fingers
and a larder full of coal.
My dreams are loud with wails and nappies.
My eyes are splintered buckets full of bile.
Choleric humour like arsenic. The past empty as sockets.
When I returned
ther wos no home for me.
I stood once by the ocean
and watched the unfettered grey waves break.
Fevers break, and my neck breaks with them.
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
until tiny graves give up their tiny dead.
– Elizabeth Theriot