Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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In the Museum of the Nineteenth Century, the Lights Are Coming On

Green moon of arsenic soap,
waning. Anti-masturbation rings
in nickel-plated steel. Scissors-grinders
and chimney sweeps. Whalebone corsetry.
In the orphan farm, cradle rows
of babies
teething on gin-soaked rags.
Girls selling watercress, girls
selling sex. Another lowered down
the coalpit’s throat, bucket chained
to her wrist. Little curtain
over the keyhole
to keep out the dust.
A little chlorine in the drapes
to ward off the river’s stench.
In back-alley porno shops, photographs
of bare-legged women swinging
in ivy gardens. Cholera
in the slum water again,
a palace being built of glass. Pages
of a yellow-backed novel spilled
like maple leaves. On a mid-century
fainting couch, women’s pelvic massages.
Carefully trimmed shrubbery, the front steps
scrubbed clean. Newsboys calling out
the latest smash. A dose
of cold beef tea jelly
and the marriage market’s meat:
Claras, Lavinias, Maudes.
Teeth chattering in the cotton mill’s
din. All-day admission to the freak show
for sixpence. In a closet, a crinoline petticoat
stuffed tighter than a jack-in-the-box.  

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