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Why Annie Oakley and Dolly Parton Had No Children

Mother rhinestone, mother curled lashes,
great head of the household asleep
with foam rollers in her hair, wound
into spirals. Unravel, comb out, spray
up to heaven and higher, high as the ladder
daddy nailed into the tree so we could climb
it—that high. Be you splinter on the heel
of your brother, be you turned dirt in March,
wet and full of worms, may we dig through
you to find the root of something. What stays
and what gets pulled out. I want to be
something bigger than I am, girl born half-
stoned in the city hospital. I destroyed
my own mother. What about yours. Tell me,
are there mothers who have made it. How do you
keep a body once it’s split. How often these forms
are given: jewel encrusted maiden who is never
turned into anything else. Maiden, maiden,
made in an image. How can I hide
what I’ve done behind my legs—see,
they’re still long, my legs. I’m still holding the thread
of umbilical cord tight from my own mother,
still little lady, in that way. Let me sing my song
to the children who aren’t my children, who are
my children, who have already turned my face
double. I have a double face and one reminds
a man of his own mother, mother of irons
and hot bowls of soup, of dark-eyed mornings
and stale sausage breath—I am so hard
on mothers, which is to say hard on myself,
which is to say I know what has happened
to my body, how it keeps going until no one
associates the smell of my hairspray with anything
but longing for it.

Sara Moore Wagner is the mother of three children she has been homeschooling through the pandemic. During that time, she’s been researching fellow Ohioan Annie Oakley. Learn more about Sara at saramoorewagner.com.