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Jennifer Lynn Krohn

The Mysteries and Rites of Hestia

In his record of the gods, the scholar pauses

when he comes to Hestia. There is not much

for him to record:

the first devoured by Cronus

the last vomited out

virgin

housewife

custodian of the gods’ hearth

silent

dutiful

a domestic ideal for women to aspire to.

He thinks—more a footnote than a deity.

His stomach grumbles,

and he lays down his quill.

When he steps into the kitchen,

the women’s laugher stops—

only the fire and the boiling pots

continue their chatter.

As the women slice and butter his bread,

as they cut his meat, he doesn’t inquire

into their conversation—such gossip

would lower his lofty thoughts.

As soon as he leaves the room, his wife, his daughters,

his mother, his poor unmarried sister, his servant return to their gossip:

the woman in the house down the street

the bruises

the missing teeth

the miscarriage

how one can turn from the hearth (for only a second) and a stray spark burns down the house.

At least she got the children out,

the scholar’s mother says, pity about the husband.

The Anatomy of a Witch

I pay the grave robbers

though I abhor their necessity,

the dirt underneath their fingernails,

the wink one gives as he mutters

She’s a looker tonight.

But a doctor must explore flesh,

travel the twisted roads of veins,

discover the borders between

organs to understand the living’s ills.

The corpse on my table reminds me

of when my father took me to see

the burning of the witch.

Her head was shaved, her shift smeared

with manure, her face a bouquet:

old yellow bruises and the newer blue-black.

She didn’t flinch, even when

a rock smashed into her head.

She refused to feed those flames

her screams. That superstition,

is why I reach for my scalpel.

It must be cut off like a gangrenous limb.

I never knew what madness

the townsfolk mistook for witchcraft.

Did the grief of a child not born

cause her to fall on the floor,

a heap of withering limbs and curses?

Did some fever leave her with visions

of Lucifer pulling her nightgown

over her shoulders? I pause in my cutting

to study the most likely culprit,

the uterus. Necessary for life—

a demonic creature, the fallopian tubes

limbs which allow it

to crawl about the abdomen,

into the chest, wrap itself about the heart

and squeeze. No doubt this organ

was the demon that caused

the witch to claw through cemetery soil

and collect the infant’s spleen,

the prostitute’s liver, to pluck

the hanged man’s swollen fingers

and toes like peapods.

Oh, if I could make the town see,

it was not a matter of devilry

but that of anatomy, they would have

shown mercy, took the poor hysteric

somewhere where she couldn’t harm

herself or others. Unfortunately,

superstition runs deep, and even I

am forced to shadows and reduced

to cutting open some old whore.