Ashley Valmere, Bloody Stocks (photograph)

He didn’t bother anymore with draping a sheet
over Anarcha’s open knees, had never bothered
to soothe her, crack open ether, look at her eyes.
The child who’d torn open the two rivers
of her body so that filth trickled always down her legs
was long dead. The doctor bought her
for a bargain when word spread of her affliction,
tossed her in with twelve others, all torn by babies
or his knife in one swift flick. Today, the twentieth
time he’d splayed her on this table, he strapped
on his mask to guard against the smell, unpacked the cobwebs
from her wound, dropped them in kerosene. She decided
to speak to her ancestors.  He opened her
with two cold spoons, and her blood pounded through
generations, girlhoods in tall grass, sun
through the window dappling the heads of dead women,
her baby somewhere handed between them. 
Grandmothers, she thought,
breaking her nails on the table as he loosed
the old stitches, damn your steps. Curse your kissing
mouths, your daughters being born and bearing
daughters. God damn daughters.

He did not even trouble anymore
to tell her what a service was her suffering, how fine
ladies in the future, thus afflicted, would think of her
with thanks.  He would etherize them, she knew.
He would drape their white bodies in linen and they would dream.
He cut a fresh line, hummed, stitched.  She smelled
herself.  Grandmothers, make ready, she thought she howled
out loud. Damn the ether.  Hang the old demons round
the shoulders of every fine white wound
he stitches. Let your curse rattle before them,
behind them, odorous, memorial.


Katie Bickham