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Joanne Lowery

Arm, 1826

I was asked to come late
by some boy the midwife sent
to bang my door awake
so I could ride out to a farm
on old crusted snow, save someone.

When she wouldn’t look at me I knew
it was more than just the screaming
from the back room, but she wouldn’t say,
wanted me to go in and find it
once in any doctor’s practice for myself,
the shrunken arm dangling.
Only by counting five twiglets splayed
from a penny-sized palm did I know
this most unfortunate position.

For two hours I tried to turn
the child back in and headfirst
through the tortured os,
its mother begging anything else
but more fruitless dawn.
It will not turn, I told her
but she heard only herself.

Every Sunday my Ann makes a dinner
to reward the morning’s worship,
hens by God’s grace plentiful.
I have stood in the kitchen
reviewing the sermon as her knife
finds the wing joint and splits
it off for Monday’s soup.
That crack reminded me.

The female child was long dead
and unembraceable.
God loves her now, I soothed
the ravaged mother
while the midwife cleaned up
in silence, sipping tea.
Each of us had felt a star, felt worms
and known the desperate need to escape
bred into the soul’s conception.

When I got back home Ann reached
for God’s bloody shirt and I slept
past noon past the wind
yanking at the gate.

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