Detroit, and Other Sorrows
(unidentified woman discovered June 7, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan)
this house, no copper
shine left beneath these walls.
Inside, nails laid against
a bare mattress of cotton
ticking, roach-dark with blood.
This is how women
go missing, bodies acclimated
to the force of wills beyond our own,
Left in the night
when the ghost city’s streets go dark,
past houses that used to hold our laughter.
This skeleton house
grips tight to street edges,
where brush gets tangled in our leavings.
It is all that is left
in the dusk as our world contracts,
pulls back on itself like a wounded thing.
There is no cure
for how you abandon this city,
its body stretching for miles past reckoning.
But we know how
to set it on fire, skin it down
to nothing but muscle and bone.
We are Detroit,
and this is what we do.
(Bessie Ann Kutnak, 63, missing since August 16, 1992 from Cameron, Texas)
The grazier tamps down
grass. Work-boots rub
against verdisgrised skin.
Behind her, the murk
of the farmhouse. Still
with rain, huddled
along the hillcrest.
Ahead, the horizon,
an opaline emulsion
of air and ground,
the coming night.
She barely notes the spice
in the air, or planetary revolutions
of aphids in the sharp grass.
They rotate around foxtails,
bent on the collision of selves,
the tangling of bodies.
She wades forward.
Listens for lulling bellows,
the stagger of hooves.
She thinks she sees a dart
of black against the ground.
Closer, against her eye,
a sliver of shadow. Dark,
until her fingers feel like the calving
Madrigal of the Sierra Nevadas
(Theresa Ann Bier, 16, missing since June 1, 1987 from Fresno, California)
There’s a colonnade
of trees straight to the peak
of Shuteye, but the girl and man take
to where the forest pinches close.
Her feet never leave the bed of moss,
but she still cannot navigate
the liquid green alone
without fear of falling.
The man stops and grabs
a leaf and a single brown hair caught
in a sapling cleft. She remembers
her childhood book, one with a picture
of an ape-like creature teetering
on two legs, his head turned back.
She remembers his face set in sorrow,
the moment before tears stained his dark fur.
Three sepals will always sink forward into a
fall while three rise above the thick stalk, a
standard of silence. This small flower,
designed for survival, knows the trickery
of attraction. Insects coat themselves in pollen
on their way through a petaled path and find
the next bloom.
These six-lobed flowers planted along river
banks capture poisons amongst their thick
roots. This is how they save us, petals
and root oxidized for five years, crushed into
Eiris: messenger. Iris: rainbow. And this
iridescent creature travels the pathways
between the underworld and the heavens
on small golden wings hung from the sharp
turns of her shoulder blades. She fills clouds
for us, pulls seawater from oceans.
Not flower. Not efflorescence. Not daughter
of sea and wind. That morning, with her
cheeks cold-flushed red, she opened the car
Not mythical creature. Not sweet sedative.
Not rooted blades. That morning, in the
frosted daybreak when she held golden light
in her palm, hoping for a reunion with her
Not spectrum of light. Not heartstruck violet.
Not crushed petals. That morning, with her
hand clutched against door handle, she
realized it was all a ruse.
That morning, on a deserted stretch of
highway, there was no movement after he
wrapped his fingers around her throat.
of shape, how curvature is akin to the law
remedies for cell mutation and the burn of
and delivers the gift of madness
lips pressed hot against
dark he waited for her until
face pushed away from his and her
Not sweet powdered cocaine cut with sugar.
Not stolen moment. Not belief in breath. But
Aimée Baker lives in upstate New York where she teaches English at SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College. She received her MFA from Arizona State University. Poems from her series on missing and unidentified women in the United States have appeared in journals such as The Southern Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Pinch. In 2014, she received a Zoland Poetry Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, which supported her work on this project.