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

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The Native Lung

A young woman sits at the window. She sinks her hand into
a lump of clay and pulls a vase, lofty and wide, in which the air

can whirl about unchallenged. What in this world is not
but briefly in its proper place? The cat in his box

by the garden, blanket roughed by scraps of leaf
tacked to his paws. Faintly copper water

drips from her hands. The whir of the pottery wheel
is her song of continuance. Somewhere

beneath the earth a teenage boy sleeps in his bewildered casket.
The scar on his chest would still be visible if anyone could look

at him. The scar on the woman’s chest can hardly keep unseen.
Doctors who want to open it up again. A husband who wants

to remind her he is not afraid. The cat who steals across it
like a border in the night. After a while, the vase

is strong enough to stand on its own. It is ready to receive
the roses she has shaped from beads of clay and now

thumbs to its side. There is a seat on wheels the woman uses
to push herself through the paths in the garden. The smallest

weeds release from the earth with a quiet puff. For all the air
around her, she cannot take enough of it in

to sustain a child of her own. The doctors draw
a cluster of pearls from her body. There is another woman

whose womb is an atrium, an airy ceiling, who waits
to receive them. What remains in her body that is hers? Even

the boy’s lobe has collapsed and must come out again. What
remains? The fickle native lung. The vase carried to the car,

nested in a sturdy box. A husband to attend the fire in the kiln.
A tiffany lamp. A lent womb. A folded braid of knitting.

In the corner of the room, the silver tank waits,
the body of a tall, patient bird. A bird that would give her

even the air in its bones if she asked for it.

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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