Breath & Shadow
Summer 2016 - Vol. 13, Issue 3
"This Body" and "Inheritance"
Hayley Mitchell Haugen
Where are your ears?
I ask my niece at fourteen months,
and she grasps them in a vice-grip of hands.
Her nose she finds easily
with one steady, sober finger,
and at night she brushes her six small teeth,
smiling at her mother, waiting for the praise
that follows this big event.
Each day is a brand new discovery,
the complete joy of bodily uses
and acceptance of her parts.
For weeks she walks with her shirt hiked up
under her chin, exposing the belly
she proudly rubs and rubs. She climbs
and rolls and jumps, and I am amazed
at how fast she grows, and how perfect.
I am relieved that I won't be the one
to tell her about the hair that will grow
in unexpected places or about breasts
that will emerge, and make even her, this ball
of confidence, self-conscious at thirteen,
so that she'll carry her Catholic school books
closer to her chest when passing boys in the hall.
I want to be a good Aunt, to give her advice,
should she come asking. I will tell her to eat
right and to keep moving, and not to worry about
the boys. And should, in her innocence, she say
that she wants to be just like me, I will smile
and thank her, and not remind her of this sickly
frame I'm in, or that constantly I'm wondering
what lurks inside to strike her down.
Great Aunty Sissy’s amber beads are packed
haphazardly in Mother’s jewelry box –
a cardboard affair, gray tape curling up
on two squashed sides – the gold chain tangling
itself amongst tarnished Disney charms, the yellow
curative glass scratching up against vending machine
mood rings as if it didn’t know any better.
My mother has been ill for weeks, the dark cloud
of diagnosis hanging over all of us as we wait
for test results. When they tell her it’s Lupus,
I am relieved, it seems, more so than the others.
I say, Welcome to the wolf pack; this is something
we’ve dealt with. She thinks though, that I will use this
against her, blame, a new theme in my poems.
The beads, we’ve figured, are antique now,
from the 1890’s when Sissy was in her teens.
I suggest an appraisal, but my mother hesitates,
asks, You wouldn’t ever sell them would you?
as though I can’t picture fat Aunty Sissy dancing
at age eighteen; as though I don’t feel the same dull ache
that burrows in my mother’s bones; as though I don’t know
what I, too, may pass along to my own unborn daughters,
and they to theirs, forever.
Hayley Mitchell Haugen holds a Ph.D. in 20th Century American Literature from Ohio University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. She is currently an Associate Professor of English at Ohio University Southern, where she teaches courses in composition, American literature, and creative writing. Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and critical essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Brock Review, Proteus, Rattle, Spillway, and other journals, and the critical anthologies, The Body in Medical Culture; On the Literary Nonfiction of Nancy Mairs; and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics: Reflections on the Modern Master of Horror.