"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tamsen Donner Commits Horrid Acts with Her Husband

Tamsen Donner Commits Horrid Acts with Her Husband 
…the cabins, by order of Major Swords, were fired, and with them everything connected with this horrid and melancholy tragedy were consumed...
– Edwin Bryant, with the Eastward-bound army after conquering California, 1847

The tent, canvas from the wagon,
a pebbly texture sagging
with ice, crackling
in the cold night air.
Wind’s monologue. Dead-cold trees.

From within,
Tamsen and her dying husband
watched the layer of canvas
fearing its failure, the loss
of that distinction between inside and outside.

Storms lasted ten days at a time. 
Starving so,
skeleton shows through.
Now the body is the shape of
what’s inside.

After he died,
she stroked his body, the bones
and the tendons like wrapping twine
around his femur, radius, and ulna.
She dressed him. Then
undressed him, needing
his clothes herself.

He lay naked, under a threadbare quilt
(midwest quilting socials,
bills sewn into the squares).

She removed the blanket
and wrapped herself in it,
gazing and not

gazing.  Was she still
the woman who married him?
Was he, in death,
the man she married?  

Tamsen licked his wrist, remembering.
She used her teeth,
as when he used to bite
little purple marks into her neck.
She nibbled along

the inside of his arm – she felt most familiar
with this part of him, what was visible
as he worked,
what touched her

when he held her face
to kiss her. 
A penknife was all that was needed

to slice out a curve of pink
as if melon from its rind. 
Her tongue

ran across the inside
of the inside of his arm. 
Its damp baby-pink
surprising beneath the brown
paper bag skin

as if here
was the man she married.  Here
was the untouched part. 
She savored the hope of him,
in the hard white desert of winter -

his release from the packaging of his body,
and for her, a surrender
to the inside - the outside layers collapsing
inwards, heavy
tent walls sagging.
Silence pressed

upon her. She chewed slowly
to make him last, her eyes
closed in pleasure.

by Karen Terrey

Published in Sierra Nevada Review

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