Ren Powell


Katia Chausheva

Dix Mansion
Boston, Massachusetts 1814

Dix Mansion is white sheets and posture
devotions and Grandmother’s matte eyes
picking up the stitch of Grandfather’s soft-
cornered pipe smoke in the library

I am the favored child of the dead physician’s
disrespectful son who married beneath him
who put his hands into the mouth of the Lord
and pulled them out again glazed
as evangelical as touched as Lazarus

I am the unexpected bleeding
stepping off the stagecoach unannounced
in tight shoes and a christening dress

I am the melodrama dripping
in the entrance hall

I am the pigeon come home to roost
the statement the penny edition the very well

D.L.D. in the Role of Miss Dix
in the Role of Governess for the Channing Children

The two youngest children are boys and they clatter
onto the miniature stage. Tin oil lamps cast depth up
onto their faces. Their voices blur like smudged silver:

“One day the princess was bathing at the river.”
Their sister enters wearing Mother’s dressing gown-
The girl has drenched the hem of the gown with wash-water

not knowing the lye would burn her ankles and hands.
The lacework leaves a dark trail over the floorboards
snags. Mother’s clenched jaw shimmers in the spill

of the footlights. “I will raise the child as my own.
I will call him Moses.” The girl gestures to her brothers-
handmaidens who sing, “Moses, son of Bathia!”

The girl lifts the doll to the bud of her breast. Father’s
presence is sticky in the summer parlor. His palms smack
together hard enough to disturb the candle flames. “Bravo!”

Mother needs air. I gather the children in a rushed bow,
whisk them into the wings, wipe cheeks, rinse hands, wrists
ankles and gown. No one will know the lye

burned through the rouge on the porcelain doll
playing the role of the orphan.

D.L.D. Confers with the Alienist

In my visions
I don’t move
to help her

because there’s no sense
in lifting the child
knowing what I know

will happen anyway
when the river is pulled
into the soft vacuum

of her lungs:
My eyes are closed
but I can still see

her fixed pupils
rimmed with the green
slough that clings

to the bank
where cattails
suck from the silt

try to burst into flight
The water still ripples
from her thrashings

Thea, goddess of sight
floats beside me
blindly tapping my thigh

The Self-Mutilator

To view the figure from its most appealing
angle: the bruised fruit of its round shoulder
dark skin sloping upward to the jaw
womanly, the curves of vertebrae
undulating, liquid in half-dark;
its flesh, a gown slipped and falling, caught
and held just above the elbows, shining
like anthracite, dark sleeves lace-like
unraveling from its forearms, a red robe
stripped and swinging stiffly with twined tassels
from hips and buttocks—an image more obscene
than the tintype stashed in father’s steamer trunk
more titillating than the musk deer’s corpse
he once dragged home to flay and mount.

After She Killed Him


Did she place her hands on the soles of his feet
and command, “arise”

Did she stand on the taut grey of his torso
to force the gurgle and whoosh of gases

Did she raise her arms and play king of the mountain
with goats watching from the pen

Did she press her chapped lips against his white forehead
and pray to be an angel with wings

so many wings they would sprout from her ears
and eyes and armpits

she would be God’s shuttlecock
and her brother would lob her over the net

and God would lob her back all fuzzy and ticklish
and they would all laugh

Did they have to peel her brother’s corpse from her
lure her rattling shackles like tambourines

Did they lock her in the barn
to rub against the masonry pillars

 

Ren (Katherine) Powell is a native Californian living on the west coast of Norway. She is a poet, playwright, translator, and educator. Her best and worst attribute is her periodical monomania–currently expressing itself through a bookbinder apprenticeship with a master artisan. Her book Mercy Island was published by Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal. An Elastic State of Mind: D.L.D.’s Autobiography in Poems is forthcoming in Norway in 2012, and will be her fourth bilingual collection published by Wigestrand forlag.

Dorothea Lynde Dix preferred to call herself D.L.D. Born in 1802, she achieved an international celebrity status by the time she was fifty. A successful writer, prison reformer and champion for the mentally ill, during the Civil War she was appointed to what was, until recent years, the highest office held by a woman in the United States. D.L.D. was the model of a Victorian spinster: having chosen not to marry, she responded to what she perceived as her calling to be the matriarch figure for society. However, unlike her proto-feminist contemporary Florence Nightingale, D.L.D. did not challenge the role of the patriarchy. Unlike some significant 19th-century figures, she did not speak out as an abolitionist. She was a woman who outlived her own era, and history has not been kind to her. Legends—some romantic, some mean-spirited—abound. These poems imagine D.L.D.’s life from her own point of view.

Ren Powell’s Website

Ren Powell at Phoenica Publishing

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