from The Lisa Sequence
The obedient child will smile for any picture,
will wait for the camera in the school’s cafeteria on that singular day,
lined up with the rest, steadying herself, brushed
that morning and dressed in immortal velveteen, Juliet sleeves
and turquoise too big. The picture man calls out
Smile for me, gorgeous, and so she does,
exposing baby teeth before the soft-focus seventies backdrop,
for that instant encircled by softness, the teacher
who must have brushed the blond wave
over her shoulder, a mother herself maybe, and told Lisa how pretty
she was. The yanked hair, the shove, the bruise covered up,
the quiet child trusting as a stray in a kennel, shyly
hithering to any held scrap of food.
To hold one with both hands is to split the prayer
position. God-forgotten, lost
in the shelves’ protection, in the calico kindness
of a kind librarian. A choice, the rush of an elaborate stamp,
turning the sail-like pages of the hardback…
Immovable friends taking you along, down the Mississip’
or off to Paris. What you were: a reader, immersed in the faraway,
the fights silenced, the crashes, the shatterings, the falling
into the stomach’s pit. Rescued, sane within it.
Imagine a bathroom with no lock, a mold-speckled
shower that comes and goes like the weather, with no one’s
permission, the trailer moaning in wind, the easy
access to your nakedness, the gall and turn of a doorknob.
Now you’re not even a person. Now you’re less than the vapor
obscuring the mirror’s reflection. Dressing
in a panic, braced against the door with a brute force against you.
Trying to hide in your clothes. Now pay attention
in a classroom. All these truths, in ruthless combination.
Now give her a cell with a lock and guards, lawyers and legal
personhood. Let her live out her years, safe, won’t you?
Note: Lisa Montgomery was executed in 2021, one week before Trump left office, becoming the first woman put to death by the U.S. federal government in 67 years.
Paula Bohince is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Swallows and Waves. She lives in Pennsylvania.