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  • Stepmother
  • Rachael Lyon (bio)

for Mary Kennedy Buchanan*

They burned the mattress she bled out on—it lit up fast,straw and horsehair in it tinder-dry. Just two of them

to carry it out a safe distance from the picketing,to light it with an ember and watch until the last flame died.

But she’s still here. Her eyes in that boy’s eyes, his cryfor her breast. To calm his colic, Nolie had to carry him

folded into a sack strapped to her back while she sweptand prayed. He only ever slept to the rhythm of her body

at the washboard. Even now, he’s always moving:catching bugs, hauling scrap, taking turns at the churn

with the help. He’s light and sprightly and so obviouslynot my child. Took him two full years to weigh more

than twenty pounds. And with three of my own comeinto the world since then, he shines like he’s from a world apart.

Bless his bones. My first child: my joy, my husband’s son,my husband’s first wife’s death.

Rachael Lyon

rachael lyon is the author of The Normal Heart and How It Works, winner of the White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Award and finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition. Her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Wisconsin Review.


* Historian Harriette Simpson Arnow writes in Flowering of the Cumberland: “John [Buchanan] had also lost his first wife, Mary Kennedy, married in 1786; she had died in childbirth, but the baby lived, so that Sally Ridley Buchanan was also a stepmother, a not uncommon situation on the Cumberland.” [End Page 367]



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