By: Kim Welliver
Frozen Charlotte: Afterimages
“1886…specific form of very small china doll, …based on a real girl who froze to death …”
when the child is not your own, it is easy to brush grief aside,
no more than a story you’ve heard, little rub of ash
on the pane of your day, tiny smut of darkness you welcome, shivering
pleasurably as one does at the velvet gestures of moths
weaving toward candled immolation: nothing sacred,
just the stricken shape of tattered wings. Vaporish afterimages
smudging the light.
To create the charlotte doll
first use beeswax: unarticulated limbs
static face. Create a mold.
Palest porcelain is best, unglazed
to resemble corpse-pallor;
to mimic the dead girl [tiny fetish]
String her onto necklets of red thread, fill dollhouses,
create a necropolis to hold these likenesses
the size of a toddler’s finger
[her mother, too, can collect them
keep a tiny graveyard filled with her dead child]
they clink together like good bones
The charlottes range on pennystore shelves: ranks of naked effigies,
most no larger than a gypsy moth,
[though some the length of a jawbone, a knuckle, a forearm] shouldering
jacks, hoops, tin banks and pulltoys. Dead-eyed
clutch of delicate corpses.
The grieving mother would replace her own bones
with them, [her daughter’s face pressing up
beneath the skin; rising like keloid scars along collarbone, knobbing
jaw and spine] in her womb, fathoms deep,
a phantom itch
The father builds birdhouses [shapes them like coffins] fills
dovetail emptiness with spoons, buttonhooks, teeth.
Both undertake the ax-work of withering.
Exteriors: parchment sheeting skinned over a scaffolding
of skull, spine, feet.
Interiors:dark twist [like fretted leather] fist sized,
This underfed opera
This deliberate fugue
News comes of an acquaintance’s loss, her child struck down.
I offer grief, pretty as a doily, thin
as a prayer card, all the while harboring
such relief, my own lintel marked in blood,
my own little one safe in her bed. I offer sorrow, genuine enough,
while secretly sucking the sweet pulp
of ‘thank God it wasn’t my mine’.
bake a tiny corpse
into birthday cake, christmas puddings, press it
into scalloped molds
filled with treacled custard
some lucky child
will find its thumbnail face
with their tongue, lick sweetness
from its body.
No need to make room for the bodies
pockets will do, handkerchiefs. Pillow
slips. Slip them
Let children possess
this thimble of death. Call it sweet. Call it darling.
Believe it a talisman against the grave.
See how the dead girl’s mother carries them
thrust up inside, where they rub
their blank faces against uterine scars.
The day Mother, hospital-smocked, births
her first son, my sister
leads me to the wild sycamore
just beyond the father-tidied edge of our backyard,
presses my hand
just below her throat where, there,
between the small gate of bone, beneath
her June -warm skin, something
beats brief wings.
we are full of greenings, and sweet rain
but we must unfurl our voices, darkly,
as mourning cloaks over red clover.
this world is fathered, brute and blind
to what is smallest, what
is girlish, or damaged
We are dandelion girls in Kmart culottes, clocking
hours of sunlight with kool-aid lips, stitching our world
with hillocked grass, Sumac and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Our skin is burnished bright.
Barefoot, thistle-stung, beyond tethered rose
and vanquished worm, every summered scent fills our mouths
drowns our lungs until we exhale buttercups
and the hot high stink of distant
Bees clot tree’s limbs, an enormous fruit of pulse
and hum. I feel it in my ribs, a thousand stings.
My sister strokes my hair
we are deathless.
lightness ferries us. we ripen like pomegranates.
we are filled with seeds.
She speaks and summer thunder
fattens. we are milkweed
in the singing wind, she whispers
Our bodies become. We are houses of hunger
and sweat. Within us gods and noseeums:
all our small swarmings.
She marks my forehead with honey, says
we are a chamber of stars.
We form a church of two, blood and pebble,
of scabbed knees and damp armpits.
Mosquitos dip their mouths
to our salted communion. She says
men will like us best used like brief things. We
must keep ourselves like secret places, cobble our being,
from sun-browned legs, freckled collarbones
into bellies sown with miracles.
strokes my cheek, says
we are fleeting as the shine
of falling stars.