Biofacts

Everywhere you look there’s a finger bone of some gone woman.
Take Aimée du Buc de Rivéry, drowned at 19 returning to Martinique from school in France
or else transformed
into Nakşidil Sultan, consort of Sultan Hamid I. Depends in this case on pirates—if they captured her, gifted her
to Istanbul as harem concubine. Or whether her ship vanished at sea. Vanish, vagary, verge.
A woman vanishes into a crowd
delirious and sheer. She vanished like Dorothy Arnold, niece of a Justice (all important women are related to important men)
vanished in Central Park in 1910 at 24. How does a socialite vanish after buying a pound of candy and a book of epigrams?
many rare birds will cry in the air Now! Now! and sometime later will vanish.
Possibly pregnant possibly depressed.
She could have hopped a steamer to Naples, could have died of a botched abortion, her body thrown into the reservoir.
Was her look beatific or faraway. Remember Amelia Earhart—so charismatic and so thin.
Like a finger bone with eyes.

Lynn Schmeidler

The Anatomy Lesson

Thorax sounds military, or straight
out of Valhalla, the yawing lodge
of the war dead held up by broad
parentheses of ribs, elastic
arches of bone. The upper sternum,
manubrium, like an element
on the periodic table, can
join in old age to the gladiolus,
misleading flower. Ribs are true or
false according to their oblique and
offset angle, though they all have heads
and necks, and knobbed tuberosity.

Floating ribs point down like internal
fangs; eleventh and twelfth, they are not
visible in The Anatomy
Lesson of Dr. Deijman
, though
the cavity yawns and René Descartes
peers in to seek the seat of the soul.
Cogito. Valkyries bear only half
the dead to Valhalla; Freya takes
the rest to fight a never-ending
battle for life, childbearing, love. No
one saw my mother wounded in that

war. Think of a rib, jarred and shattered
thin and sharp, a snapped-off shard to stab
the lung. Think of dying because no
one can find a cut or bruise. Think
the ways we are hit on the inside.
What within us is true, according
to what angle? Cogitate on proof
that is not visible, like the soul.
Ergo my mother serves Freya from
a wide wooden bowl shaped like the shield
I could not carry her on. Sum.

Tanis MacDonald

Ponti

In Venice, more than four hundred bridges span the canali, water shimmering beneath them
like endless green tulle. You venture across the city, counting—this one stone, this one wrought
-iron, this one some combinazione. (There are always more, the further you walk.) You must
keep track or risk a strange alley nowhere you predict. Today your count is true. A final turn,
and you reach the Ponte di Rialto, on the border between San Polo and San Marco. You step out
onto a slip crowded with gondolas, trembling and chitinous, sleek like roaches. Your aim: to
photograph the wide, white bridge prophesied for ruin since 1591. A photographer—a real
one—commands you “Affrettate! Spostate! Spostate!” Nothing in Venice moves quickly. You
will hurry out of his way in a moment; the bride and groom must have their backdrop. You snap
your picture, wish “Buona fortuna!” to la sposa, her ruffled gown and veil destined to hem itself
with green this close to the waves. Sudden as a comet, she kisses you on both cheeks, whispers
Mille grazie.” Your shock is short-lived, unlike every structure here; you can’t help but think
you’ve built your own bridge, from wife to wife. You make your way to the entrance of the
seething Rialto, push through the press of bodies to the portico at its center. A flotilla bursts
forth below, tugboats and waterbuses, taxis and flats, emerging like newborns from anxious,
panting mothers. Your glance alights on the bride, still beaming for the camera. Is motherhood
to be her fate, the one bridge you could never cross?

JC Reilly

In the Lizzie Borden Opera

Lizzie goes crazy before she kills.
We watch her moods quick shifts
from dutiful to angry, each a new
idea bursting in her brain,
an epiphany making other facts
and feelings vanish for the moment.
The writer makes it clear our Lizzie
needs a man for some odd reason: jealous
grudge against Sister, father who never
will tolerate her speech, family
that prison her too long in childhood,
because she should have been a man,
or the good mother gone for good.
In opera it takes this much
to move a woman to make patricide.
Not so in life. On Evening News

we watch a face you claim
the saddest you have ever seen.
Certainly her brown hair hangs limp.
We don’t see polished anger or the flat
nothing I’ve seen in the men who kill.
Once more a battered wife has killed
her child. We are supposed to act
surprised; news presents trial as spectacle.
More than once a week, I feel like it,
like killing someone, usually you,
though it could be my mother, father,
the step-something-or-other. That’s in my
family deep, but I suspect, when you stand
waving ultimatums in my face
like pointed fingers, it’s the human part
we want so much to hide. Not a
new idea and some might claim mere rage.
I know it jumps out inevitable
as night, as shit, as rain, as worms.

Must Lizzie’s ax appear suddenly
in her hand? Does the gun have to rise
to your side? What makes anger,
a moment’s rage in the midst of love
turn toward death? In the Lizzie opera
we’re frightened to sympathy, seeing
she has nowhere to hide. I keep trying,
running the same old territory, to work
it out with words. On days like today
when I sit alone in the hot car, fled,
the words seem like the last solace to fail.
When I go back, I expect nothing. More
groans perhaps, your best choice somewhere
between silence, forgetting, and a grudge.

Laura Lee Washburn

Promise City by the Numbers

Within driving distance
of unincorporated Confidence,

located in the middle
of the bottom of the state,

this Iowa town has a population
a mere fraction of its cemetery:

112 according to the last
census, divided into 49

households and 29 families,
all but 0.9 of whom are the color

of the space between stanzas.
Not much happens in Promise.

Most work. Poverty is work, too.
So is marriage. Birth and death

are the same as everywhere else,
no more remarkable, no less

to grieve. Main Street runs
mundane through it all, offering

Main Street kinds of items:
coffee, supplements, floss

for your teeth. But today,
a church day, the wind is a sip

of sparkling lemonade from the south
at 6 miles per hour, the air a balmy
64 degrees and the humidity is more
like Miami at 93 percent. It’s clear

that spring has come on gopher feet
to the prairie, bringing the time

to restore the blended colors
of the mesic turf with the seeds

of black-eyed susan and smooth
blue aster. Invest in it. Revel.

For the next 90 days, attract
pollinators with blazing star

and showy goldenrod, bring back
independent bison to graze

like mailmen through all kinds
of weather, who will later tunnel

through 9 months of snow drifts
with the determined shovels

of their hooves to find ox-eye,
goat’s rue, and rattlesnake master,

who lead themselves to water
at deep-enough local ponds

that don’t freeze all the way down
to their muddy seats, and give

eco-tours to curious tourists
driving cross-country, allowing

the wealthy to hunt the herds
and feast on meat tasting

of sovereign natures and a place
living wildly up to its name.

Jen Karetnick

You Can’t Stop the Bees

My Great-aunt Gatha, in her mail-order,
polyester clothes, works in the garden,
without a hair out of place, sings alto in choir,
studies her Sunday school lesson, though she knows
more about the Bible’s verses, maps, history—
and the road to heaven— than anyone who graduated
from Seminary. She has sayings like, “You can’t stop

the bees from flying around your head, but you can
keep them from building a nest.” And she has all
these old stories, like the time her ma bought her
some new doodads called “knee-socks.” So modest,
she put them on and tried and tried to pull
them over her knees until she stretched

the elastic loose. Ma Alice was so mad she spanked
her! Aunt Gatha was the baby of the family,
not expected to live, they put her in a shoe box.
She came into the world weighing 14 pounds;
funny, seeing how slim and trim she is
now. Unable to have children, she determined
it to be God’s will, and refused to adopt. She had
her hands full tending Ma Alice, anyway, and feeding
Uncle Pete’s voracious appetite. His profession was

body repair at the Chevrolet place in town. After
he retired, he had a heart attack, and would
have lived, but a nurse unplugged him when she
insisted he get up and walk… not a good idea
after open heart surgery. He went into a coma
for a long time, while that incompetent
nurse continued to work on his floor! It sure put

a dent in Aunt Gatha’s Christian heart—
one Uncle Pete wasn’t there to smooth out…
I’m sure she has some pretty unchristian thoughts
fly daily around her head, threatening to build
a nest, but, bless her heart, she just keeps right on
shooing them away.

Wynne Huddleston

I’m gonna build you a house

with no walls
that don’t also double
as wings. This home
will cut through pollution and hail storms
and chart out secret courses with the bees
on your behalf.

I’m gonna build you a house and you can take it
whenever you get that urge to

go, just go

and take the roof with you. Invite your mama
and your sisters and your aunties and they grand babies
to live in it with you,

in the clouds. There will be enough room
for anyone you love
because you are the daughter of a daughter

who was always on the run
from no one in particular,
just her bones weren’t built
to stay put, a thing

hardwired in her
DNA, some cellular desire,

an echo
of an even greater migration
our kin made not so long ago
and maybe that’s how it got to be
so easy to bear, Section 8 slumlords
who picked up on the scent
of that exodus

racing through our blood.

That’s why
I’m gonna build you a house
and use my tears as bricks;
this house needs to be fire-proof

because right before you were born
the apartment burned down.

And when you were 11
the apartment burned down.

And when you were 13
your mother dreamt
ya’ll needed to move. That Saturday

you packed up everything you owed
and by Sunday, ya’ll were already gone. Come Monday
your classmates rushed over to tell you how sorry they were to learn

your house burned down,
it was all over the news.

That’s why,
I’m gonna build you a house
and no, it won’t be rooted in nothing
but these feathery memories.
For all I know

people who say
home is where the heart is
ain’t never met a heart like yours.

Your home has been in so many places
and I gladly receive them, inheritances that they are
but in this home

I am building,
let this contraption of my heart take you there
wherever there needs to be.

Sagirah Shahid

Demeter, Just After the Solstice

My story says that once my daughter leaves,
my heart was filled with grief and I was lost,

a wanderer, a hopeless mess of worry.
But let me tell you this – there’s something sweet

about the sound of silence, how it wafts
through the hallways of this empty house,

how I can hear my own thoughts and my breath,
the sound of winter rustling the dying

leaves outside my bedroom window. Today,
I was awoken by my body’s restful

satisfaction, not the blasting sound
of teenie-bopper music from her bedroom,

the constant rapping of her fingernails
on the keyboard, or her cellphone ringing

at the most ungodly hours. Today,
I didn’t stumble on the thousand pairs

of shoes she always sloughs off from her feet
and leaves wherever they may fall like petals.

Today, there was no wad of umber hair
nestled in the shower drain, but still

those strands remain between the carpet threads,
on her pillowcase and in my mind.

Today, I’m walking naked through the house,
just a towel wrapped around my hair.

I’ll drink a cup of coffee with no hurry –
what’s the rush? There’s nothing I can do

to bring her back, except to wait and let
the seasons have their way with both of us.

In March, she will return a different woman –
we’ll share a bottle of merlot and laugh

about the fleeting seasons, how to find
our pleasures as they thunder past us all.

Katherine Hoerth