Molly Spencer


The Mail Order Bride Examines Her Lineage

I was born in a swarm
of saints. My mother
(iconodule) dusted
wooden faces
incessantly. My father
(lepidopterist) chased
ephemera past the edge
of the map. My brothers
(escape artists) forever
downhill on their bikes.

No one now remembers
the web we built, filaments
and conjugations, a frame-
work of deftly assigned words
and blanks. The fictions
we chose for radial spokes,
myriad silences for mooring.
Doors conspired
on their hinges, closed
with insistent clicks like tongues

of matriarchs. Listen –
in every room a narrative
gap. In every word another
unspoken. Question mark
curve of shoulders turning
from what they don’t want
to know. We who could not admit
the hill was on fire became papery
things, and ethereal. Saints
some might say. I say ash.

The Mail Order Bride Learns to Tie Knots

A knot is an arrangement
of strands. Strand of orchard, strand

of climbed oak. Girlhood strand, headstrong
toward unraveling. The feel of a rope

is called its hand. I fasten
myself to a long winding – days

of ropewalk, kitchen, the mending
of my snarled heart. Even a knot can spill

or capsize. Clove-hitch
is wholly unreliable. A knot is a hitch

that binds. Strand of doorstep, strand
of roof, shared-bed strand

where our bodies unspool. Once cut
to a length for a certain task

a rope is called a line. My body tied
to his strand of ocean, strand of anchor,

island strand tied off
at his homing. And I hold on

to the bitter end – the segment
of rope that is tied

off, or, ‘the final
extremity’ – as he hangs

up his jacket, helps me tie slipknot.
Also known as a simple noose.

Never use slipknot
to anchor or belay.

The Mail Order Bride Visits

Be prepared to describe your precise location and circumstances in an emergency.
Know what you will say to the voice on the line: Nine-one-one what’s your emergency?

Water is more important than food but generally too heavy to carry.
We note this from a position of having orchestrated several exquisite emergencies.

Survival strategies include flight and shelter-in-place. For the latter,
you must come to agreement on which room to seal off in an emergency.

You will no doubt also bicker about money, paint colors, baby names, and how
to best replace a roll of toilet paper. Sort it out now. Don’t wait for an emergency.

Look: someone has left the window open. The curtains you hemmed
and ironed? Nothing can save them in this particular emergency.

In case of emergency, track lighting will guide you toward the nearest exit
if you’re patient, if you wait for night when the stars emerge. See

how they assemble like distracted but well-intentioned children
to whom you are now saying, Put on your shoes, now! This is an emergency!

We recommend you lie down woven together for warmth. Before sleeping
please take a moment to look around you and locate your nearest emergency

exit. Try to forget the attic, its ample eaves, the veil your mother wore.
Try to remember the turning man, the sentence he dealt Eurydice.

Yes, words often fail like power lines and bridges. Still, it’s best
to spin a tale for the children about every e-m-e-r-g-e-n-c-y.

Say something about the shape of the earth, the inked silhouette
of trees. No need to abandon your love of beauty in an emergency.

It has been written: “As in every other period of crisis, the rules
of sexual decorum were suspended due to emergency.”

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and took from him
a rib, and made a woman. What else could He do? It was an emergency.

You know to suspend a wound above the heart to slow the bleeding.
You were once a woman being married. Via letter. An emergency.

The Mail Order Bride Explains Herself

I am bent toward broken. I’m roof the cure
for heavy weather, fastened layers of limb

and love gabled above their heads, the very shape
of prayer. I’m wall itself binding

their bones to a weak patch of dirt and tree-shade.
I’m tending a garden of tricks and half-truths

groping sunward at the doorstep. All day
I gather lost seeds of last year and past

lives, and in the night’s river I count
and christen tomorrow’s dark boats: the Fever

and the Scar, the Cradle and the Souring
Milk. The doctor’s office called

to confirm that their hearts are still
held fast in the grasp of their ribs

and the answer to eternity’s question –
What’s for dinner? They must know

I’m what holds up the floorboards
scrawled with a marrowed grain.

I’m the floorboard’s warp and creak
when everyone’s sleeping. I’ve told them:

At night in rising water lie back
with your mouth open, skyward.

I’ve told them: A thing can bend
with the weight of a life, and hold.

The Mail Order Bride Leaves Instructions in Case of Her Untimely Demise

When the map convulses in wind, find
four stones. The path (crooked, cleft-sewn)
– take it, run. There are light years, there are
unimaginable speeds. You will grow
accustomed to distance, your compass all
carved bone and severed song. You will look
down from heights, watch evening stain
the hills, smell dinner burning on the back
page of your memory. When you realize
the map is not to scale, recall my hands
embroidering a code in your sleeve:
legend, kitchen, hinge. In the floating
rib I’ve sewn your inheritance: long
winter, a clanging heart, muscled jaw
for snapping up what’s left. When
the compass spirals, confounds, repeat
the lines we practiced for years: Even
the North Pole wanders in the night,
lampless and bare-handed. The grown-
back skin’s called proudflesh. When you lose
the map remember, a plum stands in
for the wrung-out womb, an orphan
key where the bridge was. Cross anyway.
Toward the deep keyhole place called
the heart, peer in. The mournful smell
is flesh, blood, bone, plea. Be still,
little one, you won’t feel a thing. O small
and quiet one, eat barely. Move only at night.

Years Later, the Mail Order Bride Finds Her Answer to His Ad in the Sock Drawer

Kind Sir I am a map
You may unfold me
You seek
A reliable wife
I am luck-worn I am
Tested I am given
Wick to flame I am wide
Open space furrow
And field a house
Left empty sorrowing
Silent I am
Unbraiding my roots
From remnant soil
Kind Sir make room
On your wall
At your table read me
Worn and feathering trace
My rivers of memory
Creased legend of
Place-names and limbs
(Femur is the thigh-bone
And strongest) Kind Sir
Let me hinge to you a
Door true and steady
Make our bed a nest
For our bones’
Hushed mingling
Breathe in my every
Landmark ragged
High-water mark hemming
My ribcage the hot springs
Are my heart Kind Sir
They call me
Mercy I arrive
Late summer I will
Wait at the wharves
Be the keening
Of gulls the salt
Of beginnings a steadfast
Wind sews day into days
Into years Kind Sir
How will I know you


Molly SpencerMolly Spencer’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, The Massachusetts Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area. She writes about poetry, the writing life, and parenthood at (Photo copyright © 2013 Ted Weinstein)