The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s “Paper Doll Fetus”

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Poor Christina

If grief has no name then it is not grief. When I was very young
the casket was drawn into the sunroom. The light flushed its wooden

planks as if it were a dock, simple and orderly as any other, lengthening
toward infinity. My father’s legs buoyed his body through the room

as flotsam through water. When my mother’s blood
spilled, it was invisible. No mop was sufficient to collect it. They tried

to explain the sister I could have had but didn’t. There was
a passageway inside my mother, what kind it was and where

it led I was not told, but if you held a straw to your eye
you could have seen my sister lodged inside. How did they know

it was a girl if she could fit inside a straw? Am I supposed to feel
sorry for her more than for my mother because she could not

come into the world, but what is the world? I was sent to live
on the farm. My grandmother was deaf. She never hugged me,

it was like she couldn’t hear how to do it. The wheelbarrow
wobbled along clacking its cargo of garden tools, and the chickens

sank their talons into the crinkling hay. There was the sound
of cans in the kitchen chiming and the thunk of cans anchored

with beans. My mother’s name was Violet and I could say it
as many times as I wanted. On the farm I got the scarlet fever

and the wind from the fields barreled into my room, the curtains
flapped at my arms rough as skirts of twine. My skin flaked, I was

a husk too long past harvest. The strawberry of my swollen tongue
shut tight inside my mouth. My grandmother’s tiny body in the chair.

Poor child, poor scarletina. No one said that, I made it up.
And when I shut my eyes I saw my sister, the button

that undid our lives. It hurt my heart, the scarlet fever. All of it
hurt my heart. If your grief has no name then give it one.

Poor Christina, my father used to say. It was not
my mother’s name. It was not my name.

This selection comes from Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s book Paper Doll Fetus, available from Persea Books. Purchase your copy here!

Cynthia Marie Hoffman is the author of Paper Doll Fetus and Sightseer, as well as the chapbook Her Human Costume. Hoffman is a former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Director’s Guest at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Her poems have appeared in PleiadesFence, Blackbird,diodeMid-American Review, and elsewhere. She co-edits the online interview series on poetry project books, The Cloudy House ( Visit Cynthia online

Jennifer Hanks is the author of the forthcoming chapbooks Prophet Fever (Hyacinth Girl Press) and The Unsteady Planet(Instar Books), a collaboration with illustrator Julie Herndon. Her work has appeared in Arcadia, Ghost Ocean Magazine, Muzzle, Menacing Hedge, PANK, and other journals. She writes an ongoing column, Disorder Reigns, for Arcadia‘s online sundries blog. She is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans.


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