Monthly Archive for January, 2012

Three Poems by Tasha Cotter

A Lack of Power at the South Central Women’s Clinic

It looks like the power lines are being restored. Outside, men in hard hats dart like bats in a gray air. This time I’m not worried about my medical records or what my hypothetical political rival would leak to a hypothetical media. The man in front of me wants to know which insurance carrier is better: Humana or Anthem? There are more men than women in the office. I hate it when men are in lingerie stores, tampon aisles, and women’s clinics. It’s 2 PM on Tuesday and it’s unseasonably cold. No one wants this more than I do.

Description of a Figment and a Letter to Imagination

Where are you if not outside the enclosure?
Only figments live inside.
I am colorless and cold, I am my own figment.
–Sarah Manguso, “The Black Garden”

Small—as you would imagine.
Immaculate and white
Like a light beam of memory
Focus until I see a tiny blank
Body the size of a keyhole.
You are unspeakably clean.
So pure, I’m scared of you.
But this is where my emptiness
Goes. You are the address
I muster after sight settles down.
My body is adrift, we pace
This room. I notice someone
Faint through the wall
To wall windows.


I am told to be realistic by everyone but you and so I thank you and each piece

of dandelion wing I see in wind oddly departed from its weeping stalk. How does it feel released from cell—weaker parts get me down. You can’t be located biologically, but I say what about all those endless shivers and wakes that speak for themselves (loudly & within). Watch what you read: unreliable definitions cause panic. Think of the light as coming from within. Think hard on what you are.

She Shouts at the Absence

Go to a party of mothers and daughters.
It’s just that you are motherless.
As you listen to the sound of braiding hair,
As you listen to pepper jelly recipes
Don’t tear up.

Hold that bird your heart.

In the basement they are searching
Their skin tones for clues, propping
Themselves on beige furniture.
You pretend you’re fine, lightly laugh,
Accept wishes, whatever they are.

Talk like a cowgirl who has chased an animal
For days, in a lonesome expanse of burnt orange country.
The animal escaped, passed a point of no return.
Sit wondering how it happened.

(Cowgirl thought it wanted to stay).

Act like the blood that escapes
The bullet hole is not physical, not seen.
Dab it with a handkerchief of lace.

Tasha Cotter’s work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming in Booth, The Rumpus, Contrary Magazine, and elsewhere. Her fiction was recently nominated for a story South Million Writers award, and her poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net Anthology 2011. You can find her online at



Bastard babies are born with broken hearts: an interview with Leslie Worthington

Interview by Jessica Powers

Last week, we published Leslie Worthington’s short story, “The Beach House,” a story about a young woman, pregnant and  unwed, and trying to deal with her emotions as the father of her baby arranges an adoption. This week, I spoke with her about the spark for her story; about the realities of young women and pregnancy both today and back in the 1960s, when the story is set; and about why writing about these issues is important.

1. What was the spark for your story?

 The spark for the story came from a single sentence: “Bastard babies are born with broken hearts.”  That popped into my head, and I liked the alliteration and the oxymoronic nature of the phrase “bastard babies.”  We don’t use the word “bastard” in its original sense much anymore, so it added a shock to the statement.  At first, I thought the sentence was a line of poetry, but it eventually became the story “The Beach House.”  I wrote the story around it.

 2. Setting (time and place) is critical for this story. Can you give us a little bit of historical background for women who found themselves in your protagonist’s situation (unwed, pregnant) in the 1960s, when this story is set? The 1960s are an interesting bridge between cultural mores since the so-called “sexual revolution” was happening yet it was before Roe v. Wade.

Women find themselves in this situation even today.  Their options may be different, but sometimes when they are young and poor as Cecelia is, things aren’t all that different.  I set the story in the 60’s partly because I wanted the reader to think about that.  At first glance, you can say “oh, thank goodness it isn’t like that anymore.”  But is that really true?  Yes, as you say the sexual revolution had begun, but yet women didn’t have access to reliable birth control, there was no planned parenthood, and the options were, keep the child or put it up for adoption.  I think most women got married whether they wanted to or not.  Those who put their babies up for adoption were often hidden away as Cecelia is.  These girls were kicked out of school and sometimes sent off to homes for unwed mothers or to live with family far away so they could come back and pretend nothing had ever happened.  No one spoke of the child, and the girl could never speak of what had happened to her.  Another option was sometimes to give the child to a family member as Cecelia’s mother had left her to be raised by her grandmother.  Most of the time, these women never had a voice or avenue for release, a way to deal with their loss and pain over the huge thing that had happened to them.  They just had to shove it down inside themselves.


Dr. Leslie Worthington

Despite easy access to birth control, despite additional options, despite the lessened stigma on pregrancy without marriage, women, not just girls, still find themselves in this situation.  As a college English professor, I meet them all the time.  They are in my classes, they miss exams to have babies, and they write essays about babies they’ve lost and given up.  And society now, in the twenty-first century, isn’t as forgiving as we might like to think; these women aren’t always as forgiving of themselves. 

For Cecelia, she isn’t going to get married.  The baby’s father doesn’t have that in mind.  Her family thinks she is, so she can’t even go home without humiliation.  Can she go home to her grandparents with a baby, as her mother did?  It’s obvious she doesn’t have the means to keep the baby and care for it by herself.  It’s also obvious that she doesn’t want to give that baby up.  She’s decided on the baby’s gender, given him a name, and a future.  She’s imagined his future without her.  She’s fallen in love with her child before he’s even born, as mothers do.  Cecelia faces a horrible dilemma.

3. I love the ending, where we don’t know if Cecilia dies or just imagines her death and, later, makes it to shore. Metaphorically, however, she felt as though her life was essentially over. Can you talk about how you crafted the ambiguity and the metaphor into that ending?

I guess I haven’t thought much about intentionally crafting the ambiguity of the ending.  I’ve displeased some readers who couldn’t believe I’d create a woman who would kill her child.  I think the ambiguity comes from the fact that even Cecelia doesn’t know what she’s going to do.  She doesn’t set out intending to commit suicide.  She doesn’t go into the water intending it.  Maybe she thinks she’s letting fate take over, and the universe will decide.  She’s been in denial, not thinking about what’s going to happen.  She’s a very adaptable person, as we can see from her memories of her life before the baby.  She’s alone, and her future is uncertain, but she’s making the best of where she’s found herself.  She’s enjoying the leisure, her reading, the beach.  Being able to adapt to change and stick it out through hard times is a desirable and even admirable quality, but sometimes it hurts us.  Sometimes we need to be able to say, “No, stop this” “or I want out of this.  I’m not going to take this anymore.”  Wes’s remark about this being over soon sets her thinking more deeply about her situation.  So when she sets out for her walk that day, reality is flooding over her.  She does not want to give up her baby, and maybe killing herself and taking the baby with her is the only control she’s ever going to have over her own life.

One thing I did want the story to have was metaphor.  I wanted the things she sees on her walk along the beach to have meaning to her, as our surroundings take on life and meaning when significant things are happening to us internally.  Yellow houses become symbols of a happy life.  Birds protecting their nests become young mothers who have to give up their babies.  The world around Cecelia becomes infused with meaning as she becomes more emotionally aware.

4.  Why do you think it’s important to probe these issues surrounding sexuality, pregnancy, and motherhood in literature?

These issues are part of our common experience, and art is a cultural experience as well as an individual one.  I don’t believe literature has to be didactic, but it does need to be about something, something important.  Sexuality, pregnancy, motherhood are all important to who we are as women, and the sharing of these experiences and feelings joins us.  Sharing can sometimes lead to healing.

5.  What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished an academic book about intertextual connections between Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy entitled Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn.  It was released a couple of weeks ago.  I’m currently working with a colleague on an anthology of essays about images and definitions of home in the work of Appalachian artists.

With my own fiction, I’ve been working on a collection of short stories for some time now.  It will probably be called Odes of Solitude. Each piece has a female character who imagines, remembers, or hallucinates the story, yet she’s the only character who is actually present.  “The Beach House” is part of the collection.  And I continue to write poetry, usually about the experiences of women: career, love, children, grandchildren, and balancing all our many, many roles.

The Beach House

Fiction by Leslie Harper Worthington

Cecelia walked the beach again that morning.  A few other beach houses dotted the shore, but she didn’t give a damn.  She was barefoot and big-bellied.  It was 1962, and she wasn’t hiding any more.

She had that dream again last night, the one where she gave birth to three little black kittens, each small enough to fit in her shoe.  What would he think if that was all he got – little black kittens?  She tried to keep herself from such silly thoughts.

Seagulls were soaring overhead and diving for their breakfast.  Raw fish didn’t sound like a bad morning meal, but she had to admit she’d been eating some strange things lately and craving even stranger ones.

That Army doctor said not to gain more than twenty-five pounds.  It’d been only seven months and she was sure she’d already gained more than that.  What did he know about having babies?  He’s an Army doctor.  Still, it was nice of him to see her, considering she and Wes weren’t married.

According to that palm reader, they were never going to be.  No one can see that in your hand.  “This child will not fulfill your expectations.”  What did that even mean?  If you talk in riddles, then people can believe what they want to believe.  The girl wasn’t much older than Cecilia herself.  She had startled Cecelia when she approached her on the boardwalk and took her hand without asking, but Cecelia could see reassurance in her hazel eyes.  “It’s going to be okay, “was what Cecelia saw her eyes say.  Who knows what more she could have said if Wes hadn’t pulled them apart.  “This is nonsense,” he said as he took Cecelia by the arm and guided her toward the clown giving out candy on the other side of boardwalk.  Cecelia didn’t realize she was even showing.  Wes probably didn’t either.  It was the last time he’d taken her out anywhere.

Wes’s sergeant was kind to let her stay at his parents’ beach house.  She wondered if they even knew she’d been there the last four months.  Everyone was being so nice.  For Wes’s sake.  It wasn’t as if any of them knew Cecelia.  She had never seen any of these people before Wes brought her here, and he wouldn’t have done that if not for the baby.  He was being nice for the sake of the baby.  What was going to happen after?  She didn’t mean happen to the baby.  Wes had that all planned out.  The baby would have some where to go.  But what was going to happen to her?  Who was going to be nice to her then?

She’d like to stay right here forever.  True, there wasn’t a radio or television, but that made it peaceful.  The high ceilings of the beach house reminded her of the church she had attended as a child, the church where she’d learned to sing “I’ll Fly Away” and “In the Garden.”  That white church around the corner from her house had been the place she’d loved most.  She’d sneak in early to listen to the choir practice before service began.  She wanted to sing too.  The church was close enough that she could walk there by herself, so she never had to ask for a ride.

She didn’t have a ride anywhere now either.  If she had a car, she could leave when she wanted, but she wasn’t sure she would ever want to leave.  She found the solitude restful.  She could barely remember a time before she’d had to work day in and day out.  She’d started working weekends at the mill when she was fourteen and had quit school to work full time at sixteen.  Before the mill, she had helped Momaw watch the babies she kept during the day while their Mommas worked.  She felt like more than four months would be required to rest from the first twenty years of her life.

She didn’t want to go anywhere right now.  Wes came every Saturday, and she wasn’t half way through The Complete Works of Mark Twain she’d found on the shelves in the living room.  She couldn’t leave until she finished. Huckleberry Finn was currently keeping her company.

What if she had a boy?  Would Wes let her name him Huckleberry?  Of course not.  She wasn’t going to get to name him anything.  But Huckleberry could be his secret name, just between the two of them, while she still had him.  When she remembered his slime-slick face and first-breath screams, she could think about her Huckleberry.  When she imagined him toddling across the kitchen floor, running onto the little league field, or walking across the high school stage in cap and gown, she could call him Huck.

The Killdeers rushing away from the surf caught her attention just then.  They looked as if they were afraid their little bird feet would get wet.  Cecelia didn’t care this morning.  Her green maternity pants were soaked to the knees.  She should have worn her dress again.  It didn’t matter.  The wet felt good.  It weighed her down as she walked along the beach.  The water was her anchor.  Wes would probably yell about the mess.  He yelled so much more now.  Most of the time, she couldn’t figure out why.  He used to be all sweet talk.

If he were here he couldn’t yell now.  The day was so beautiful.  The sky was as blue as her Papaw’s Irish eyes.  She wondered if Papaw and Momaw wondered what had happened to her.  The note she left that night said she was getting married but not where she was going or when she’d be back.  They were probably happy for her.  They didn’t know Wes, but she’d told them he was an officer.  In her small mill town, that meant something.  She could hear them in her head.  “Don’t worry none.  Celie be back fore we know it,” Momaw would be sayin’ to Pap.  “Don’t yall know it.  Bet that boy’s taken her north to meet his folks,” Papaw would reply and then flash a smile at her, so she’d feel better about it all.  How could Papaw be so happy when all he did was work all day in that nasty mill and come home too tired to even pick a tune on his guitar?  That town was a dirty place.  Momaw knew it even if Papaw didn’t.

Everything was so clean here.  The sea air rushing through her nose was fresh.  She wanted to open her mouth wide and swallow it all.

She wondered if the Killdeer had a nest somewhere nearby, if their dance was meant to distract her from finding their eggs.  None feigned a broken wing the way she had seen them do, but she probably wasn’t threatening enough or maybe just not close enough to bring on the full show.

A brown pelican landed on a pole a few yards away, a sliver fish in its peak – breakfast.  Cecelia was hungry.  She’d only had coffee before she headed out for her walk.  But it didn’t really matter today.

What had Wes said the last night he was at the beach house?  He’d brought groceries and a stack of old magazines.  She made spaghetti.  “It’ll all be over soon.”  That’s what he’d said.  She didn’t need magazines.  She had Mark or Sam rather.  She’d never known Mark Twain’s name had really been Sam.  What’s in a name anyway: Mark, Sam, Huck?  She felt she’d come to know him well enough to call him Sam.

As she looked up from the Killdeer, she noticed the sea oats dancing in the morning breeze.  They were supposed to be endangered.  If no one protects them, there might not be any more.  Without sea oats, the sand would wash away – no sand then no beach.  She was amazed how everything is connected to everything else.  Today the tall shoots looked like little brown boys having a game of freeze tag: stuck in one place till the wind touches them, instant unfreeze, and they are all free to run again.

She couldn’t tell how far she’d walked, but farther than most mornings, farther than ever before she suspected.  She didn’t remember that peach house.  The houses were so cute here – pink and blue, yellow and peach, like doll houses or the houses in the picture of the Swiss village above her mother’s bed.  She couldn’t remember much else from her mother’s house, but she would lay awake nights tracing the streets of that tiny village, wondering if life was happier in yellow houses.  Momaw and Papaw’s house was just dirty white, like all the puny, row houses on their street.  She’d spent only that one summer with her mother, the summer she’d turned twelve.  Her mother had called her “a handful” and sent her back on the Greyhound bus.  “Handful, my ass.  Celie never give me a minute’s trouble.  Unlike some other little girl I could name,” Momaw said to Pap, as they road back from the bus station.

Cecelia was a long way from home today and a long way from the beach house.  She’d not seen the pretty peach one before.  She would have remembered the swing on the porch. She’d better pay attention and not get too far to walk back.  At least the beach wasn’t like the woods.  You couldn’t get lost on the beach.  All you had to do was turn around.  You could wander in the woods for days and still never find the way out.

She remembered that day at her Granny’s house.  Granny was her Momaw’s momma.  A rabbit was munching the grass under the butterfly bush beside the back porch.  Cecelia startled him, and he ran into the woods behind the house.  She was seven and she had to follow him.  She soon lost track of the rabbit and realized she’d been walking in circles.  It couldn’t have been passed noon, but she would have guessed it was passed midnight, with no more light than what trickled through the trees.  Cecilia would probably still be there in the dark if Brutus hadn’t found her.  She dropped to her knees when she saw that big, black dog standing on the ridge.  She didn’t have to be strong any more.  He’d save her.  He walked her to the road on the other side of the woods, and Mr. Burns, Granny’s cross the street neighbor, happened by in his pickup truck. He carried them back to Granny’s house.

That wasn’t the only time Brutus had saved her.  She’d love him even more for the stormy nights he jumped on her bed, circled a few times and then settled at the foot.   He’d lay his snout across her leg so even in her sleep she’d have a reminder that he was there.  Thunder frightened her more than anything else on God’s green earth, but she was determined never to let anyone know it.  Brutus always kept her secrets.

She wished Brutus was walking with her today, but he had been gone almost ten years.  Cecelia had never gotten another pet.  She wasn’t sure she ever wanted one after Brutus.  It would be like replacing a brother.

What would she do now if she got too tired to walk back?  Stop at a beach house and ask strangers to borrow their phone?  She didn’t even have a number to call.  It was okay.  She wasn’t that far or even that tired yet.

She looked out at the aquamarine waves.  From where she stood, the sea never ended.  She hadn’t been in the water for a long time.  Baby Huck was swimming in her water.  She waded out a little ways into the surf.  The water was cold, but it felt good around her knees. It would probably feel even better around her waist or where her waist used to be anyway.  She didn’t really have one anymore.

The water was deeper and calmer a few yards out.  She lay back and floated.  Making snow angels in the sea, she watched the gulls directly over head.  She wondered if the birds were taking breakfast back to their babies in the nest.  Some birds chew and swallow their food and then vomit it back into the baby bird’s mouth.  Her Momaw told her stories of women chewing beans and spitting them back out to feed their babies, in the years before manufactured baby food or at least back in the hollers where there wasn’t much store-bought food.  That was before they’d left the farms for the mills.

Birds aren’t much stranger than people, she thought.  Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, so once the baby cuckoo hatches, the foster parents feed the cuckoo before their own babies.  The cuckoos are bigger and eat all the food up from the smaller birds who eventually starve.  Are those cuckoos any happier for the switch, she wondered?  Wes said everything was going to be alright, that Huck probably wouldn’t ever even know.  But Cecelia knew from experience.  Bastard babies were born with broken hearts.

A wave splashed her face and reminded her she was floating along the shore. Is this how Huck feels?  But it’s dark where Huck is.  She’ll have to try it after the sun goes down.  She determined to float there — surrounded by fluid — till after dark.  She was floating a way.  She could be the only woman on earth.

Cecelia may have fallen asleep.  She wasn’t sure, but a seagull’s cry startled her and she realized she couldn’t touch the sandy bottom.  When she looked to the shore, the peach house was tiny.  In the opposite direction, a boat sailed in the distance.   The Bloody Mary, called the tattooed side panel.  If she started screaming who would hear, the people on the Bloody Mary or the people in the tiny peach house?  Wes off on that Army base?  Her mother over in Atlanta?  She had wanted to scream for a long time now, but still didn’t.  What would it feel like if her lungs were filled with water?  Could she scream?

Maybe she could wave, but she thought better of that too.  She was just too tired and floating felt too good to stop.  She lay back once again, not willing to resist the current, determined to drift till dark.  Where would she be by then?  She couldn’t tell.  She decided she didn’t care.  They were too happy to change course now.

Leslie Harper Worthington is chair of the Department of English at Gainesville State College where she also teaches composition, literature, and creative writing and serves as advisor for The Chestatee Review, the college’s award-winning literary magazine.  She holds a Ph.D. from Auburn University with a concentration in Southern Literature and is the recipient of a Brittain Fellowship from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Quarry Farm Fellowship from the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College.  Her short stories and poetry have been read at the Southern Women Writers Conference, The Southern Literary Festival, The Mildred Haun Conference, and several Gainesville State College events.  Her poems “She’s the One” and “Home without You” appeared in the “Pectoriloquy” section of CHEST: The Journal of American College Chest Physicians in summer 2011, and her book Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn will be released by McFarland Publishers in summer 2012.  Dr. Worthington lives with her children and grandchildren in Flowery Branch, Georgia in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Read our interview with Leslie Harper Worthington conducted by Jessica Powers, Bastard Babies are Born with Broken Hearts.

Mother, Writer, Mentor-come write with us!

Announcing Mother, Writer, Mentor: practical tips for writing moms

The Fertile Source is kicking off 2012 by expanding its offerings with a sister site, Mother, Writer, Mentor: practical tips for writing moms.  Our focus is two-fold, to offer writing courses for mothers who write and to develop a mentoring program for writing moms. At Mother, Writer, Mentor, we hope you’ll find a place to share the layers of your experiences with one another in a safe writing community full of members aspiring to be the best mother and the best writer possible. 

Those of us who have come through those early years of sleepless nights and phantom manuscripts know that the most empowering support for maintaining a vision of wholeness and possibility when it comes to the dual role of motherhood and writing comes via the solace of the words and direct experiences of those who have gone down the path ahead of us.

 Consider this our call to you, our loyal readership, to help us tailor our Mother, Writer, Mentor website as we strive to offer resources that fit actual needs. While we can certainly guess at some of those needs based on our own trajectory to writing, editing, and publishing while mothering, we’d love to hear from you directly. Please email us your suggestions either to jess [at] catalystbookpress [dot] com or tania [at] catalystbookpress [dot] com.

While we are developing the rest of our resource offerings and the mentoring program, we will be posting regularly to the blog on the home page of Mother, Writer, Mentor (where we will shortly be putting up a call for guest posts).  In the meantime, we are offering two courses this spring, at a reduced introductory rate. Visit Mother, Writer, Mentor for full course descriptions:

February 2012

To the Cradle and Beyond: Excavating and Writing the Poetry of Motherhood with poetry editor Tania Pryputniewicz

April 2012

Sexy Mommy Stories: Writing Romance Back into Motherhood with founding editor Jessica Powers

Male Miscarriage, Reptilian vs. Human Mating Rituals, and Inappropriate Lactation: An Interview with Poet Laura Thompson

Poet Laura ThompsonMy Boyfriend’s Miscarriage,” right off with that title, takes us into unmapped emotional territory. Not only for its secondary implied point of view, but for the serious subjects it juxtaposes (miscarriage and a cancer in a child). Can you talk to us about the process of writing this poem and how you arrived at that stellar title?

People often say that men can’t understand pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, etc., because they have never physically experienced it, which becomes particularly problematic when men attempt to control or legislate what goes on inside women’s bodies. This poem came about because I wanted to envision a scenario through which a man might gain a better perspective on miscarriage. Because the boyfriend in the poem has experienced a situation where his body (in this case, his bone marrow) was unable to sustain a child’s life, he begins to understand why a woman who has had a miscarriage might be unwilling to try again.

“Heat” continues this push into unmapped fertility/sexuality territory, with that feral metaphor of the over-heated, hatched female “sterile, chunky / aggressive” fending off the fertile females, landing beautifully with the closing image of the pull to female to female passion. Again, can you talk to us about your process and choice of metaphors, if there are other images you are further working with in your poetry along these lines?

I’m fascinated by the animal kingdom, especially when it comes to mating rituals, and I often find that describing a literal phenomenon that occurs in nature allows me to then explore metaphorical issues that impact my own species. The sex and breeding behavior of a gecko is directly determined by environmental factors, whereas the environment of human society dictates what behaviors and expressions of sexuality will be regarded as deviant or defective. The speaker’s anger issues may be a result of her prenatal environment, but what provokes her anger is social constraints and a one-size-fits-all mentality; when given free expression, her condition becomes celebratory. Another metaphor I’ve used is the feeling of wanting out of one’s own skin, which I compare to reptiles who literally shed their skin.

I found “’Inappropriate’ Lactation after a Miscarriage” incredibly moving—thank you for writing this poem. Have you encountered other poems in your reading history along this topic (I know I haven’t yet) that you would point our readers toward?

Thank you. I haven’t actually come across any poems that portray this particular aspect of a miscarriage, which is one reason why I wanted to write about it.

Any poetry mentors or other inspirations you’d like to share with us?

All of these poems were written while I was a student at Vermont College, where I worked with Betsy Sholl, Leslie Ullman, Natasha Saje, and Roger Weingarten. I enjoy the work of Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and Lucille Clifton, among other feminist poets. I also admire Sharon Olds’ use of the body as subject matter and Pattiann Rogers’ use of animals as metaphors.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently enrolled in the PhD program at the University of Cincinnati, where I’ve been working on a series of poems that explore my experience with chronic illness.

And just for fun, (if we assume the pet shop source is personal and not projected), will  you be sharing the poems with that owner?

That poem was inspired by several pet store owners I’ve encountered over the years, none of whom would appreciate being immortalized. My pets, however, are fans of my work.

Laura Thompson earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of the Fine Arts and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in English and Comparative Literature, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Tributary, The Rectangle, and Tiger’s Eye. She is also a part-time English and Creative Writing instructor and serves on the editorial staff at the Cincinnati Review.

4 Poems by Laura Thompson


The pet store owner hates me.
The bags of skittering crickets
I buy can’t make up for the sales
he’s lost. Releasing swarms of doubt
among his customers, I tell them
how big those babies behind glass will get.
The sulcata tortoise that fits
in your child’s mouth will be 200 pounds.
The frog sitting on your thumb eats fruit flies
now, rats later. In a year, that iguana will need
his own room. Caiman is just another
word for Crocodile. Is it animal welfare
that makes me speak up, or my own
fear of a life that will outgrow
the space I leave for it? When my eight-months
pregnant friend says how much she wants
this baby out, I don’t tell her
about my embryo, just another word
for a baby so small I didn’t know I’d brought
it home, how my deformed
uterus ran out of room at eight weeks,
and the tissue meant to cushion crushed.

My Boyfriend’s Miscarriage

On a Harley Davidson notepad, I draw
a normal uterus: pear-shaped, adorned on either side

with ovaries, and then mine, upside down, toppled
by a mass of eggs on one side, nothing

on the other, fallopian tubes
a gnarled ball of yarn.

The perspective father of my children
still isn’t convinced: Wouldn’t a child

 from your own body mean
more? Wouldn’t that be worth

the risk? I find him sobbing, face down
on our mattress, clutching

a Christmas photo—his niece’s bald head
covered by a Santa hat, smiling despite

chemo and swollen cheeks—he flinches
when I brush against his hip where a drill

pierced his femur, drawing rich red marrow
from the hollows of his pelvis to patch holes

in a child’s blood, the only relative whose genes
matched. Nine months later, the cells he donated

have died inside her. I was wrong
he says. That’s the last part of us
I want to lose.

“Inappropriate” Lactation After a Miscarriage

To not “take possession of.”
To not “set apart for a particular use.”
Not “fitting, suitable, apt.”
Not milk, but milky,
meant for a baby never
truly possessed.
Not white, but bluish gray,
insinuating itself into a bra’s
lace when someone else’s baby cries.

Set apart but not useful,
twin tumors the heart beats against–
ignore the pressure, refuse to release it,
and it will go away.
“Express” it and it will never
stop. Soothe with frozen
cabbage leaves, brittle green reminders
that babies are not found
where they were thought to be.
The only cure: to become
fertile again. What is natural
can also be wrong.


Inside a freshly laid egg, a gecko
begins female, but temperature
changes everything. Incubators
set at 75 guard oviducts, but
crank to 80 and androgen pools
in hemipenal pores. A simple formula, unless
a thermostat malfunctions and temps
reach 90, for an egg just shy of omelet
hatches “hot female.” Sterile, chunky,
aggressive, they savage males who try
to mount them, dance a slithering samba
when “normal” females approach.

Off her meds because of me, my mother
hid in closets and crawl spaces
in June, heat stroke less threatening
than life. Were those prenatal summer
months the reason the dress shop calls
my waist a “size other?” Did it make
me throw a desk at the teacher who said
I’d never find a husband peering
through a microscope? Is that
why I sizzle in a woman’s
arms like butter
beneath scrambled egg?

Laura Thompson earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of the Fine Arts and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in English and Comparative Literature, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Tributary, The Rectangle, and Tiger’s Eye. She is also a part-time English and Creative Writing instructor and serves on the editorial staff at the Cincinnati Review.

Read our interview with Laura Thompson conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Male Miscarriage, Reptilian vs. Human Mating Rituals and Inappropriate Lactation.

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