Waiting for the Reveal

I.

It is believed the first woman ever cut
in half went uncredited for her deed.
It was 1921 at London’s Finsbury Park Empire Theatre–
that we do remember.

We remember the magician’s name,
P. T. Selbit, and that when the woman was locked
inside the wooden crate,
her hands, feet, and neck were knotted into
ropes,
held by wary audience
volunteers.

Then it happened,
death
passed through her body–
blades, glass sheets–
all slipped through
so easily.

Spectators were mesmerized,
the magician commended,
and illusionists began to mimic
and perfect the trick
into decades of assistants shoved into boxes,
thousands of women cut into
parts – left waiting
for the reveal.

II.

It is through the body we lose
our way, pieces often go missing–
it’s best to catalogue early.
I have retraced my steps countless times,
I have bloodwork and paperwork to prove
my loss,
an empty heartbeat,
the anxious need to answer–
proof of fault.

When death passes through the body
it comes out in secrets,
in stories of women who slip
out backdoors unnoticed,
disappear down driveways,
gravel crunching beneath
the weight of their storms.

We learn to divide ourselves
into diptych narratives,
to take inventory:
she never held a baby
to begin with,
but a still-life traced first by pencil,
then dipped into wax,
folded into wings.

It is through the body we can reappear
on stage, or slip from boxes
made for illusion,
from smoke into
applause,
the way two hands can be chained
to two other hands,
can suddenly erupt into
bird –


Emily Gwinn is the co-editor of All We Can Hold: A Collection of Poetry on Motherhood, and Director of the LiTFUSE Poets’ Workshop in Tieton, Washington (www.litfuse.us).  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. Her poems have been published, or are forthcoming, in Hubbub, Rock and Sling, PontoonThe Furnace Review, and Sage Hill Press’s Railtown Almanac. Emily’s chapbook “Transpiration” was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009.  The poem “Waiting for the Reveal” was first published in the anthology by Scablands Books called Towers & Dungeons: Lilac City Fairy Tales, Vol. IV, which benefited the community-arts organization Spark Central.  

Photograph by Matt Brockie.

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