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Like Other Ghosts, She Whispers
By Ren Martinez
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty wacks
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty one
Kailey Tedesco’s poetry collection, Lizzie, Speak, is, in a word, haunted.
The ghost of Lizzie Borden lurks within each turn of phrase, each shadow of verse. Sometimes, you are a curious onlooker, peering through the dirty glass of the oddities shop to gaze upon the scrap of her veil and the pale of her hand. Other times, you are Lizzie herself, unveiling the clockwork within her mind, painting allegories in her own life’s blood.
The poems themselves are beautiful in the way that a taxidermied animal is beautiful; captured in motion, slightly misshapen, with unsettling black eyes that seem to follow you from page to page. Dynamic in form, there are some poems that stop and start like a heartbeat; other times, they are long strings of words, like a whispered confession.
The images that Tedesco invokes are gorgeously gory, violently vibrant. I am reminded of Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting, 'Judith Slaying Holofernes': the twisted expressions, the beautiful layers of fabric, the knife gripped in her hand, the rich red of blood. Other paintings of this scene have been rendered before, just as Lizzie’s story has been told and retold, but often in a way that keeps a woman’s hands clean, keeps the placid expression on her (innocent) face.
Let me thread you, small bloodlet
Every breathing body is absolutely smeared with rubies.
Tangled strands from beneath the skin
I cross my heart
I’ve never thieved in my life
- “Lizzie Portal/Lizzie Virgil”
There’s nothing bloodless about this work, nothing placid, nothing clean. But, the story woven through Lizzie, Speak is as rich as grave soil, as sacred as a tomb. Tedesco’s collection creates a portrait of Lizzie Borden as real as her ghost, crafted in both reverence and horror and the shuddering fear that you’re not so unalike.
And, on certain moonless nights, when you can still hear the faint sound of bird calls, smell the iron scent of newly turned earth, and if you’re very, very quiet, perhaps even you can hear Lizzie speak.
You can order Lizzie, Speak from White Stag Publishing now.
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