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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
Poem: 296 words
By Susan Tekulve


I swallow a progesterone pill 
small as a quail’s egg, smooth 
an estrogen patch beneath bikini 
line. That first night I dream 
of birthing stray cats and wake 
from a long darkness. In secret, 
I bewitch myself, adorning fingers 
with my grandmother’s garnet 
and sapphire tea rings, draping 
collarbone with my mother’s pearls, 
dangling my lobes with chandelier 
earrings. I paint my nails 
Malaga red, touch every pulse 
point with amber wood cologne, 
go looking for my husband. 

Outside, he gazes into an alabaster 
moon along a fountain pen’s barrel, 
contemplating his mother’s death. 
She kept the tumor clenched 
beneath her breast as secret 
as she kept her teen pregnancy 
so she could finish learning how 
to whip cake batter, how to sew 
a child’s dress with a half yard 
of plaid, how to bleed and bear 
children in a class held before gym. 

How much easier it now seems to tell 
of a teenage pregnancy 
than to speak of our aging bodies’ 
losses, the slow drip of hormones 
leaving unnoticed until we notice 
our minds losing time, sleep, reason, 
our bones dissolving, our falling hair 
circling drains as our fogged brains 
strain to recall sleep, or the time 
we last saw our mothers. 

The last time I saw my mother-in-law, 
she’d painted her chemo-cracked 
toenails vixen red, sparing ICU nurses 
ugliness. A kind undertaker painted 
my own mother’s nails wildfire, asking 
if I wanted to keep her wedding band. 
I paused. She’d kept her last wishes 
as secret as she kept her lipstick hue, 
the names of her stillborn children, 
the ache of her vain womb 
cauterized then removed. How 
does any woman discern between sparing 
and withholding her pain’s wisdom? 
My mother’s coffin closing, I knew 
only to say, “Let her keep it.” 

Susan Tekulve’s
Issue 23 (April 2024)

newest book is Second Shift: Essays (Del Sol Press). She is also the author of In the Garden of Stone (Hub City Press), winner of the South Carolina Novel Prize and a Gold IPPY Award. And she has two short-story collections published: Savage Pilgrims (Serving House Books) and My Mother’s War Stories (Winnow Press), the latter of which received the 2004 Winnow Press fiction prize. Her web chapbook, Wash Day, appears in the Web Del Sol International Chapbook Series.

Her nonfiction, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals such as The Comstock Review, Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, Italian Americana, The Louisville Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, New Letters, Puerto del Sol, and Shenandoah. Ms. Tekulve has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She teaches in the BFA and MFA writing programs at Converse University.

Author’s website: https://susantekulve.com/

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