In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Nice, France, 1890, and: Magdeburg, Germany, 1912, and: Tehran, Iran, 1941, and: Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1945, and: At Last, She Is Finished with Emptiness
  • Katie Bickham (bio)

Nice, France, 1890

In the night, Josephine dreamed of saints and monsters. St. Gerard’s blessed kerchief settled on a dying mother’s belly as she labored, and lo, the baby came, the mother saved. But then they turned to dragons. The Devil swallowed St. Margaret whole until she burst from his belly,

the holy birthed from evil. She woke to Grand-Mère’s cold and certain fingers on her ankle. “Come, Josephine. Lamps and water to the inner room. Arise. We are needed.” Secretly, Grand-Mère was called Faiseuse D’Anges, The Angel Maker, white witch who cast the pebble of a child

into the sky. The girl on the table fisted crumpled francs, face splashed with firelight. She’d been before, raped by her father, had thrown herself from a terrace to crush the quickening, but only cracked her jaw, which jutted still to one side. Grand-Mère had let the air in then, swept baby

away, then laid the ailing girl beside three others in her own bed to coax her color back. That was last year, before Grand-Mère offered Josephine an apron, taught her how to tend women, watch the basins to be sure they’d got it all. Josephine fainted the first time. But women came and came, knocked and wept,

swept by tides onto their stoop in the evenings. Women: beautiful and plain: the ones who pinched tomatoes in the square, washed their windows, flowers in their hair. Tonight, Josephine cast kerchiefs and dragons from her head. No space for saints in these close walls. Grand-Mère, whose children never [End Page 63]

thought her tender, hummed to the girl as she worked, said, “Lean, my love. I have you.” Her hands worked like whispers around the bruised legs, the girl grown pale, absent as a ghost. Grand-Mère spoke to Josephine only with her eyes: Watch for blood, say nothing of the father, feel her pulse, stop praying stoppraying. God is a man. The girl’s heart drummed a dirge

at the wrist, her cries unfastened. A lineage of witches’ wisdom in her blood, Josephine held the girl’s just-round belly with a palm, willed wisewomen’s strength into the girl, and then the tissues came. Resting later in Grand-Mère’s bed, the girl whispered a rosary. Grand-Mère and Josephine hid the tools, scrubbed the basin, swept the floor before sunrise. [End Page 64]

Magdeburg, Germany, 1912

The night of my confinement will always be a night dropped out of my life.

—Mrs. Mark Boyd, The Ladies World, 1913

The American woman knew that bodies had withstood the agony for ages, but Herr Doktor made miracles; she stood firm. This was a new world for women: a blessing, too,

she told herself, not to be home howling by the hearth. Worth her memories, worth sailing round the earth was the Dämmerschlaf, the twilight sleep, a work of art

more elegant than nature’s ugly crucible. She was encircled by restraints, eyes covered, wrists and ankles circled in soft leather, and then, like a child herself, led

into fitful slumber. She clawed up to gray morning, birdsong, cries that could have been anyone’s. A soft, ordinary work song hummed by a masked orderly. And here, they said, is your son.

A child born from no place, from the flame of her forgetting, bracket of blank pages. The boy, too, would dream and forget— a bird from no tree branch, fish from no river, sword from no forge. [End Page 65]

Tehran, Iran, 1941

In his youth, the boy had left his mother’s house early in the morning, tied on his apron, and spent days infusing whipped cream with roses to garnish the Persian Love Cakes, triple-sifting chickpea flour for cookies in the window case. He lived a life

of honey, of nectar, of the sweetest milk until the English came from below and the Russians came from above and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 63-69
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.