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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2016 - Vol. 13, Issue 3

"This Body" and "Inheritance"

written by

Hayley Mitchell Haugen

"This Body" and "Inheritance"

Written By

Hayley Mitchell Haugen

"This Body"


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.

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