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Category archive for: Cynthia Marie Hoffman

The Flower from which Forgetfulness

Lie down beneath this tree this is the lying-in

velvety sweet this is the green sky dripping with

trumpets do you hear anything if you hear something

you will not remember it the insect that pricks your

arm flick it away you have much to do here do you

smell something lemony twilight the scent is narcotic

wipe the melody from your mind wipe the lemony

you may feel something but you will forget it don’t

bother to scream just push do what the doctor

who is not here tells you to allow the invisible

nurses have you forgotten them already to touch you

these are the plants of the gods the hell’s bells

the devil’s weed push the baby comes in the grass

someone wraps her in a towel and hands

her to you now ah the trumpets swinging the angels

struggling to keep their lips to the stems, sleepy baby.

from Paper Doll FetusFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

I Would Not Offer to Disquiet Her

…with more strivings, but drew the child leasurely

with the crochet.

—Percivall Willughby (1596–1685)

By the time I was called for, the child

had lain too long in the womb parched

and drained of all humidity. I found

the woman’s belly still as stone, ointments

placed on her body to cure the scent from the child

cracking inside her. Hastily I compelled her to take

a liquor of milk and pepper, and busied

the midwives with warming bricks in the fire

to place at the poor woman’s feet. I bade her

close her eyes to sleep, and thus she set her head

upon the sheet but could not submit. The metal hook

warmed in my hand. I saw her eyes grow troubled

and I shut the door. In the dream I have of this moment

a ball of yarn is tangled deep inside the womb

and when I pull, pinned to the yarn comes a child’s ear

like a wrinkled dress on a clothesline. And then

a pair of lips that ride the length of the thread

and into my hand like two birds perched upon a branch.

Like this I pull again, pull until I see I am stitching

a child into the air warm as a crocheted blanket, and when

it is finished I place it upon her bed, and she looks

upon the bundle wherein lies a tiny wrinkled foot-

print, proving theirs was once a moist union

in which for many months the child swam

and swallowed. And the mother is warmed

and sleeps. And the hook cools. And the mother lives.

from Paper Doll FetusFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

At Twenty Minutes Past Twelve by a Clock in the Queens Apartment I Commenced to Give a Little Chloroform

—April 1853 casebook entry, Dr. John Snow

Snow, a name like a blizzard in springtime summoned to the Palace

where the baby turns inside the Queen. A magician’s hand

come to release his apothecary jar into the darkened room

like a glass dove. Blessed handkerchief. Blessed sail laid at

your lips. Sweet drip of chloroform. What does a Queen see

in her closing eyes? Strolling the canal the length of the gardens.

Resting the fruit of the mulberry tree, heavy, vaguely womb-shaped,

in her hand. A name like white petals giggling in the whirl of his

swift gait, the glint of his waistcoat buttons all in a row, all things

delightful. Somewhere a curtained bed drifts downriver. Somewhere

a baby is crowning. Come back behind the closed door and lie down.

Come back already from the flank of trees. The bird has retired

to the sleeve. Someone lifts the baby His Royal Highness the Prince

like a balmy fruit plucked from the bed sheets. Has the sweet fire

thawed from your throat? Is that your baby? Did you see how he did it?

from Paper Doll FetusFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Poor Christina

If grief has no name then it is not grief. When I was very young

the casket was drawn into the sunroom. The light flushed its wooden

planks as if it were a dock, simple and orderly as any other, lengthening

toward infinity. My father’s legs buoyed his body through the room

as flotsam through water. When my mother’s blood

spilled, it was invisible. No mop was sufficient to collect it. They tried

to explain the sister I could have had but didn’t. There was

a passageway inside my mother, what kind it was and where

it led I was not told, but if you held a straw to your eye

you could have seen my sister lodged inside. How did they know

it was a girl if she could fit inside a straw? Am I supposed to feel

sorry for her more than for my mother because she could not

come into the world, but what is the world? I was sent to live

on the farm. My grandmother was deaf. She never hugged me,

it was like she couldn’t hear how to do it. The wheelbarrow

wobbled along clacking its cargo of garden tools, and the chickens

sank their talons into the crinkling hay. There was the sound

of cans in the kitchen chiming and the thunk of cans anchored

with beans. My mother’s name was Violet and I could say it

as many times as I wanted. On the farm I got the scarlet fever

and the wind from the fields barreled into my room, the curtains

flapped at my arms rough as skirts of twine. My skin flaked, I was

a husk too long past harvest. The strawberry of my swollen tongue

shut tight inside my mouth. My grandmother’s tiny body in the chair.

Poor child, poor scarletina. No one said that, I made it up.

And when I shut my eyes I saw my sister, the button

that undid our lives. It hurt my heart, the scarlet fever. All of it

hurt my heart. If your grief has no name then give it one.

Poor Christina, my father used to say. It was not

my mother’s name. It was not my name.

from Paper Doll FetusFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

The Paper Doll Fetus Speaks to the Viable Twin in Utero

Days, a week, or two weeks passed before I discerned I was dying

and the things which were to be my eyes shriveled up like pricked balloons.

It is always night in here. I cannot know if it is you, though something

is wringing out my heart (what was to be my heart) my tongue my skin

is being ground to a pulp. There was not enough time to rehearse a graceful pose

before I was wedged against the wall. I am splayed like a weather vane.

Your head is enormous. When did it happen that I am no bigger than your footprint?

I am becoming a scrap of parchment on which is scrawled my flattened waxy face.

Unfold me. You will find a tiny skeleton stirred into the paper. I am a letter

to you, and it says if you held me up to the wind I would flutter away. At times

in the future you will feel that something has been lost but you will not remember

what it is. No one understands why this is happening. Look at me, you know me

better than anyone. I am not angry.

from Paper Doll FetusFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

The Phantom Pregnancy Speaks from the Belly of the Nun

Beyond the monastery walls there is a row of apple trees.

Was it the communion bread that woke me? In her mind

it was the seed of Christ. Beneath her robe a shirt woven from

horse hair scours her belly raw. Her want for a child was so great

it was the wolf’s howl at the orchard’s edge. Like a spirit

in a haunted room, I whirled inside her until the ceiling raised

and the woman loosed her belt. And then the days were quiet.

Many months I stayed with her there by the window, needle-

point in her lap. And as she worked, her hair shirt rustled me

to sleep. She has never known a man. Yet surely soon

the other brides who bring her tray of bread and butter

will gather at the door, wedding rings clinked to their

crosses as they raise a hand to their hearts, ringing the bells

of astonishment. Surely their eyes will be opened. The wolves

grow impatient in the yard. But in the evenings when we are alone

together, she gathers her woolen robe at her hips, slips her hand

to her belly beneath it, and there is a certain warmth I have grown

accustomed to and which stirs me, I would say, if I had a bone

in my body, to my very bones. I am ashamed, after all this time,

to slither away as I must and leave her deflated on the bed, her

wild eyes searching the room. Beyond the wall there is a row

of apple trees. She believes in me. It is good to be believed.

from Paper Doll FetusFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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