Broken Portrait by Chelsea B. DesAutels


In Kansas, I hold the baby to my chest in the hallway of a crappy motel.
The tornado sirens are loud or soft depending on the wind.

It’s been a long winter, but I’m beginning to brighten, says my mom, And we’ve emptied
one of our three storage units.

The doctors can’t decide whether my lungs are blooming with tumors or
an infectious disease. The weeds look beautiful in the scan, unfolding
and growing like psychedelic flowers.

He fills our bathtub hot. The snow falls in the early Minneapolis winter.
We watch the water spill over my heaving belly.

No one tells me for two years that they’ve sewn part of my hymen
to the outside of my body. For many reasons, I am afraid of nearness.

I’m goin’ honkey-tonkin’, get tight as I can, maybe by then you’ll ‘preciate a good man—
George Jones croons through car speakers.

During cancer I pray to an unfamiliar God. I am the happiest I’ve ever been.

When we look up, hundreds of grackle claws on electric wires over
the intersection by the pet food store. In every other direction: no birds.

Once a week, a woman puts gloved fingers inside me. We are trying to reset
my brain with clinical experiences.

The neighbor whose name I don’t remember draws a chalk outline
around my daughter on our porch. It does not wash away, a near-human shape,
white on red.

I married a good man. He loves me and irons his own shirts. I am spoiled.

I mean I am rotten.

Chelsea B. DesAutels serves as Poetry Editor of Gulf Coast. She teaches at the University of Houston, where she is also an MFA candidate, and with Writers in the Schools. Chelsea is the recipient of the Virginia Reiser Memorial Scholarship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship. Chelsea’s work is forthcoming in Ninth Letter. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and the University of Minnesota Law School.