Poem | Murder-Suicide

B&W photograph of blonde woman with crossed arms and sunglasses, staring directly at camera.
Photo Credit: George Eastman House

There was a man. The paper says ‘troubled.’

His sister says ‘sweet.’ The neighbors say ‘quiet.’

There was a knife. The paper says ‘sharp.’

His mother says ‘hidden.’ The store adds ‘purchased.’

There was a woman. She was his wife,

an object he troubled, an extra appendage.

There were some children. The paper says ‘boys.’

The school says ‘darling.’ An aunt writes ‘mourned.’

Their mother adored them. She kept them close:

for there was a man—a troubling man.

He was her husband; he was their father.

His voice ran hard; his fist swung wide.

But the paper can’t say that: there’s no one talking.

‘Cos there’s no one living. So it’s ‘troubled.’

So it’s ‘quiet.’ They’re ‘deceased.’ No one says murder.

But we have questions: There was a knife.

Did it trouble her flesh? Why was she so quiet?

This was a woman: Did she exist? Or is she a prop

to sadden his story? Did she have a mother?

Where is her history? For she was a woman—

like we are women. For she was a person

like we are persons. The paper says ‘family.’

The village says ‘neighbors.’ The priest says ‘angels.’

But we know better: She was a woman,

in death a mystery, in light a wonder. But still:

a woman. Another woman (of many women)

whose ‘troubled’ man ended her life.

This poem was inspired by writer Linea Dunne’s insightful “Rest in peace, invisible woman,” which is about media coverage of the recent murder-suicide of Clodagh Hawe (née Coll) and her three sons by her husband. Here’s a fair example of the coverage of her murder (as well as many other murders like Clodagh Hawe’s): Heartbreaking first picture of tragic mum and wife Clodagh Hawe killed in murder-suicide in Cavan. Note that this story discusses at length the life of the murderer, but fails to mention much about the people he actually murdered. While the poem is not explicitly about Hawe or any particular woman of recent memory, it is dedicated to her family. Rest in power, Clodagh Hawe.

Poem | I, at Seventeen

Photo booth sepia photo strip strip of young woman from the 1940s with mysterious smile.
CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

I, at seventeen,

grand star of that film inside my head,

am spilling light into the yard

while peering out into the night

from my room amidst the trees.

I want a word to break my fall,

so I take a word and I take one more

and I take a third, and from those words

I begin to write a brand new poem

in the notebook on my thigh.

I, at seventeen,

am turned in and in like origami

am surely no one’s pretty baby

am foul and sharp and full of points

am already on and gone—and gone

to whatever lays beyond the trees

to history stretched across my knees

a word and a word and a third word still,

yet none of it enough.

I, at seventeen,

watch two thousand faces light

like torches when I dance onto the stage—

to the band’s bright haunting jig.

Then I turn and pause mid-flight to flaunt a grin

to hear ’em roar and when I land,

I’ll hit that beat and they’ll roar again.

Off I’ll go into the wings,

sweating, pinched, a bit more broken,

catch my breath and back out again—

a-one, and a-two, and a one-two-three.

Then I fly.

I, at seventeen,

can jab an elbow in your throat.

Don’t walk up on me way too fast.

Don’t you come up on my six.

I am small but too damn quick.

I can fight you f—king dirty:

I will kick your kneecaps backward.

I will **** your ****ing world up.

So keep your distance. Yeah, you heard me.

I, at seventeen,

washing dishes in the kitchen,

catch my face flit in the window

just above the soap-slicked sink—

I’m pale and worried, framed by night.

I’m so much sadder than I should be.

The glasses clink, submerged in water.

I dance a step and shake my head.

I turn and dance another step.

I want a word to break my fall.

Oh my lord, I’m seventeen.

A-one, and a-two, and a one-two-three.

Off I fly.