Lizzie Borden’s Pears
In spring, the smell drove her mad.
Those blossoms, airy as lace, stank
of fish and rot and something else;
she’d heard the neighbor boys snicker,
passing by. She locked the casements
until the white petals browned
and fell, displaced by hard, ungrateful fruits.
Then, the days were hot. She raised
her bedroom windows, prayed for breeze.
That air, impossible to breathe–
she could find no relief from it.
The ripened pears dropped to earth.
At night, their thuds brought restless dreams
of strange men lurking in the yard.
She woke each morning drenched in sweat.
She was often ill that summer.
Everyone was ill. The meat
went bad in a day, cakes turned sour,
her parents retched their dinners at night,
then breakfasted on leftovers.
That morning, Lizzie could not eat,
could not abide even the smell
of johnnycakes and mutton stew.
She fled into the barn loft,
taking an apron full of pears.
There, she said, she sat and ate
for twenty or thirty minutes– she wolfed
her alibi pears to the cores.
Perhaps she thought of Saint Augustine,
who in his youth stole his neighbor’s pears,
not for joy or hunger, but merely sin.
Inside the house, the air had changed.
Smell of iron. Soft grains.
“Lizzie Borden’s Pears” first appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review and is from Honeymoon Palsy (Measure Press, 2017).