Hannah Marshall

Grandmother Dee




the color of her skin
and her long nightgown
the color of the clouded morning sky
her wispy hair
the oatmeal
and the bowl
and the bleached pine boards

I was small and hard
as a pearl
a reflection a dented sphere
peeling about my fingernails
the fragile corners
of my mouth
as she pulled
me close to her loose breasts
her neck scented
by cold cream

I am good
I am dirty
blood on sheets
which soaked through
to the mattress
I scrubbed and scrubbed
and ached in my hipbones
this is what a woman is
my long coat covering
stained khakis
all day at school

that morning
she gave me only liners
for my underwear
that night she scolded me
for blood on the bright edge
of the trash can
I am soft and white as bone
broken open
and the snow down the hill
the juniper
the deer soft and nervous
below its supple branches


Oyster Woman

What was it you resisted,
what grain buried deep in your flesh
those summers at the lake
in your bathing suit,
all the miles you swam?

Somewhere, you felt
the swell within you,
cherished the hurt
until it became
your smooth, bright center:
the length of your spine,
curlers in your hair,
the glass nail file which
you pulled from your black
leather purse on Sundays.

Your fingers were elegant,
even in the end,
when all else dissolved,
the full figure
you tended so carefully,
your penciled brow
and precisely curated
sweater sets.

At the last, the gentle opening
of your jaw left no
careless word upon your tongue,
nothing but that one fear
which kept you beautiful
all your life. By then,
your hair had begun
to grow back in.

Black-eyed Susans,
driftless hills, the pearlescent rain
upon your garden
of purple sage and prairie grasses:
what name did you give
that fear?

I cannot pronounce it,
my tongue unbending
to that ancient desire,
and yet I know it,
how it grows round
and soft within me, too,
unuttered, ill-defined,
borne from your womb
to my mother’s, to mine,
to my daughter’s.

How lovely its lace,
its lipstick,
its soft hip and razors.
How cruel and familiar
and full of nourishment.



A History of My Pew


First was blood
in the dark foliage of Eden
as I burst from the gates
and my child—the first child!—
tore out from inside me
like uncleanness, he said,
the one who walked beside me,
and uncleanness
was sinfulness
like the snake, her skin
shed, her smooth body
circular and inviting.

I planted the afterbirth
beneath a large oak
and the garden’s flaming sword.
I buried the soft, slumping
bodies of each of my mothers
there, too. My husband,
my father, my brother
tore slim branches from the tree
to use as whips, to fashion into
gunpowder or the flute
of their urges, which they emptied
into me like sour fruit pulp.

I was bound to the mother of God.
I was the mother of God, but my son
still left me under the tree
which had now, finally, died.
I carved it into a coffin
and lay down inside. My sister
lay down inside, too,
a virgin, cloth spun around
her bloody legs.

A man turned
our story into a book
and barely mentioned us.
The pen was carved from my teeth.
We listened to the pages
as they covered our breasts,
our hair, our mouths.

And then—when?—I knew
the snake
was God, too. God, bound
and writhing, smooth
and woman. And the story
from the book
was not the one which had happened,
how really it was only my body
which my husband objected to
so I shed myself
like a snake
and ran into the desert,
holding my own soft flesh
with invisible arms,
cradling her—cradling Me—like a child.











Hannah Marshall lives and works in Illinois. Marshall’s poem “This Is a Love Poem to Trees” will appear in The Best American Poetry 2021. Her poems can also be found in Poetry Daily, New Ohio Review, The South Carolina Review, and elsewhere. Marshall holds an MFA from Converse College.