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ORELIA, TWELVE-YEAR OLD THIEF, gone from your parents’ house, out the window and into the night—not even you know the minute, the hour of your escape—but yes, you do remember riding in the rain, the green mountain bike borrowed from your neighbor’s garage—you remember the brilliant line of light under the door—an opening, an invitation: you love him—Tom, Tom Ariely—this forgetful man who watches over but never speaks to you, who tempts, who fails to flip the lock, who wants to free you—you love his wife, Joanna—bones of the skull, the ribs, the clavicles—Joanna starved to bliss, living on light, living on flowers—day after day Joanna kneeling in the garden, dry hair the color of bones, the color of ashes—how can you explain—love comes as it comes: when she stands, dark dirt falling from her knees breaks you open—Joanna: you sing her name in the night, a prayer of gratitude: impatiens, lilac, calendula, clover—Joanna: so mercifully she forgets lavender, lovage, snapdragon, violet—the petals you pluck, her unfathomable losses

Irradiation, evacuation—Joanna scooped out, cut, sutured, infused with toxins to kill and save her—all her beautiful children unborn—

 ———————Nasturtium, Basil, Zinnia, William

She can starve herself to rapture, yes, Joanna, high and light and full of God, but every loss remains, Lily, Angelica, incarnate within her—

It’s true, she knows them—senses them in breast and brain, stuttering thyroid—the unborn imperishably alive in lungs and spleen—skin, liver. Their pluripotent cells crossed from placenta to blood, found their way to bone and cartilage—they vanished and remained, re-creating themselves through her body—

 ———————lips to kiss, arms to hold us

Joanna: not one, but many: in the heart, her children’s cells become muscle to repair damage—in the hippocampus, the unborn spark genes to express themselves and excite neurons—her ecstatic children fuse their immaculate bodies to neural networks—even now they are whispering to her, laughing with one another: Calendula, Impatiens, Zinnia, Violet: she breathes them in, all together, then one alone: so sweet he is, Sweet William

William: who spilled into her blood, a murmuration of cells, finding his way to the valves of the heart where forever now she hears him opening and closing: the inexorable surge of him, their blood a torrent—

William: who offered his sweet self even as his body stayed his, connected by the cord, feeding from her, 129 days in the cradle of the pelvis—William: perfect feet, perfect fingers—William: the last to come, cells from every sibling inside him: yes, it’s true: and his father through them to him—and back to his mother: pulsing red to the veins of Joanna’s hands, blue to the heart, an endless loop of memory—William: the weight of a flicker, a bird who can eat the berries of poison oak and poison ivy—thistle seeds, moths, snails—

Glorious, gliding in the garden: red nape, black whisker—flickering, yes: gold light flashing in the wings, coral fan of tail feathers—

—————-—here I am: the heart of the heart
—————-—of a bird fluttering inside you

In the garden, love is dirt and rain: through every wet blossoming Joanna hears children singing—

 Joanna, you stood at the window, wished for me to take the bike, make the glitter of its green frame disappear—wished for Tom to stop oiling the chain, adjusting the spokes—you wanted him to stop pedaling the bike down and up the hill, testing the gears—her tall husband ridiculous on the child’s bike—a man mystified by desire: as if he believes even now the sixty-three-year-old woman without a womb might bring forth a child—

 Joanna, I saw you at the window: thin gauze of your nightgown lucent in the glow of the kitchen light far behind: I knew every porous bone of you: your body radiantly exposed, transfigured in X-ray

Stung; electrified—shimmering in the rain—the sparks of me turn brilliant and scatter—

—————-—Joanna, who, if not you, can understand
—————-—the desire to be gone, to go dark, to be other



Melanie Rae Thon is a recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and a Lannan Foundation Writer’s Residency. She is the composer of thirteen works of fiction and poetry. “All Her Beautiful Children” is excerpted from As If Fire Could Hide Us © Melanie Rae Thon, forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press.




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