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Three Poems


The sun bursts in through bathroom window like an opinionated Aries,
drives its body into the shower with me—
lights up every edge of tile,
curve of fundal mound:
I am still swollen with death,
leaking bright red blood.

My wounded body
brought a blue boy into this world
with his eyes sealed shut.

My body the burnt field.
My body the funeral home.
My body the death of a star.

My body in a Target crying in front
of the Born Alive doll. My body
putting rocks on a headstone.
My body under the weight of
possibilities set fire.

Jews sing El Rachamim, god of compassion,
when they tuck a body into dirt–
the word for compassion from the root,
womb. Something about how
we should show compassion for the dead
like we carry a baby under our hearts,

but what if we carried only wind
over the prairie and grew fat
with that nothing?


My Son Died and All I Got Was This Box

The gown but not the body, a stuffed pastel heart, the bear the baby held but not the fists, a crocheted blanket donated by church ladies, a hat the baby wore for a few minutes, absorbing all the celestial slop of birth, but not the head, prints of fingers and toes but not the flesh, a lock of hair if there is any—all the treasures organized inside and tied shut with a white ribbon. Donated boxes so we don’t leave the hospital with empty arms, so we can still feel edges as if the whole world isn’t now one big edge. The box is what’s left, not what’s ahead. It holds no promises, no miracles. I know this now that I am a hideous archeologist of dead things. I watched my son’s lips mummify. I felt those skull plates move beneath my fingers like sailboats on a river. The box I was told I could visit to dig up and sift through the sediment of my regret. Someone tell the next unlucky ones that the box never closes. The doors are always flapping open like wings.


Knitting a Hat for my Small Jizo Statue

Because the hat I knitted for my dead boy taunted me
on the pile of abandoned baby clothes.
Because my fingers ached to hold something, anything.
Because the winter days, though short of sun, were as long as years—
each day a bear holding the hours in its mouth like a limp carcass.
Because I could stare in the mirror and not recognize myself as living.
Because I wanted to be living.
Because I watched the planes cross over Cincinnati every night from my window,
and it didn’t bring him back.
Because I needed somewhere else to go while staying right here.
Because the Japanese do much better with grief and someone gifted me a Jizo statue.
Because death doesn’t care if you’re a republican or democrat, a knitter or MMA fighter.
Because when you feel hurled out of orbit, there’s always a trail of yarn to follow back.

Rae Hoffman Jager is the author of American Bitch (Kelsay ’22). Her work has been described as rambunctious, urgent, funny, and elegiac. Rae holds a BA from Warren Wilson College and an MFA from Wichita State University.