Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The United States was the first country to concertedly undertake compulsory sterilization
programs for the purpose of eugenics. The principal victims were the mentally handicapped
and mentally ill, but many women were sterilized against their will in many states, often without
their knowledge while they were in a hospital for other reasons—such as childbirth. In the end,
over sixty-five thousand individuals were sterilized in thirty-three states under state compulsory
sterilization programs.

in a house of
older brothers my
older sister was
too big her
place at the table
our father’s lap
I was too
big to be
in the highchair
he sopped redeye
gravy with a biscuit
a bite
for him a bite
for her one time
she came back
into the warm
kitchen from
the cold fainted
forehead hitting
the table’s edge
before the floor
our mother took
soot quick from the stove
to staunch blood
that scar healed
over blue a new
moon’s prettied edge
tattooed above
her brow
my faint was a fever
a week that
smoldered burned out
the letters of my
own name
nothing to show
for it no cut to put
the soot in
my sister bled
first because
she did not know
what it meant
I would
she thought she
was dying
buried her bloody
dress under
the rock we used
to prop open
the pasture gate
but could not
hide bloodribboned
thighs blood in
her shoes our
mother said it was
not death just
dangerous my sister would
have to be
careful now
she was when he died
they all said he dug
his grave with
his teeth my sister
hid underneath
the stairs when he
was laid out on
the ironing board
waiting for the embalmer
to come
I had had
the fever
by then things
like that didn’t
bother me I
touched his hand
hanging down wasn’t
as cold as
all that
braided for his wrist
a bracelet
of clover
we moved into town
so our mother could
run a boarding
house my sister
learned to cook
standing on a chair
one time we all
had measles everyone
in bed
I shared mine
with my sister we
grazed the belled
cow in the lot
down behind
the schoolhouse where I
didn’t go and
could always hear her
the brothers
left for war
my sister ran off too
and married came back
when our
mother commenced
dying to help me
feed the boarders
let her give her
the shots of morphine sink
the needle
into that wasted
thigh what little fat
she had left
I went to live with
her they worked
jobs all day
she cut hair he
sold radios I
was bored and
not careful they
quit their jobs and bought
a car a
Ford a
1951 we had
a brother in
California who said
he’d keep me
until after
I had
the whole back seat
to myself three windows
I slept
when I vomited
they didn’t stop they
talked at me
over their shoulders
his hair so black
and razorcut
it looked wet
it took us five full
days and three
motels I slept
in the other bed they
never did
anything San
Francisco pink house
cot windowwell
my brother wore
a pinkstained apron
butchered all day
while his wife
drank cursed at me
in Russian talked
keeping it herself
but decided
to cry I was
feebleminded enough
to want it
back she said
they said it was
a girl I never
saw they sent me
back fixedticket
on a train like it
never happened
but not to her
house she found a widow
lady for me
to sit with days
and nights no one
would ever
have to know
where I had been why I
met a man
at the store he
married me for it
I never told
him we didn’t
have to be careful
he sharpened blades
at the plant all
day I stayed home and
played the radio
we lived in
a house beside
a graveyard no
one ever visited
I know because
I watched
my sister came
one time she brought
her little girl
and a quart of PET
ice cream the three
of us ate
from the carton since
I didn’t have
an icebox and
no way to keep
it we never
spoke of it
my husband grew
a garden garlic
big as eggs and sweet
I slivered and fried
it with squash
he hung pie pans
to keep out crows
and deer I loved
those pans those
flashing lights along
a summer’s day
my throat started
to close until I
couldn’t swallow
the smallest bite
of meat mashed
squash and potatoes
with a fork and
then blended
everything I could
with a wire whisk
she was always
older I figured
on her being
first her face
breaking ahead
of mine I heard
a hip break before
the fall when I
coughed hard
enough I broke a rib
she would come
to see me
in the nursing home
she was fine she
cut my hair my
nails one Christmas
Eve she came
and brought her
daughter grown
graying there was
a reindeer outside
my window on the
winter scorched
grass skeleton of
lights nodding
its head yes yes
yes yes what
else could
this never say  end  

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