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Motherhood: A Hexaptych


She is cold, but they are frost and shiver. She digs them holes in the snow, sweeping ice crystals away. They burrow like wolf pups, snuggle inside enclosed walls. They think they are safe. Once she is sure they are sound asleep, she tiptoes away. They will survive or starve. An icicle will fall and kill them, or a wall of snow will smother them in their sleep. But for now, she will remember them as they were: perfect angels with button noses, chubby fingers entwined.  


Every night since she gave birth, she transforms from flesh to feathers. One night, her children wander off the path from the house and become lost in the forest. She transforms herself into a crow and caws. She drops objects on the ground: a button, a thimble, a pebble, a feather torn from her body. Unable to speak, all she can do is hope that her children will find these gifts, that it will be enough to lead them home.


Unable to have children, she cries and cries. Her husband tells her she desires too much. She is always reaching, unbuttoning, tugging, bruising imprints on his skin. Sorrow grows branches and leaves until she is a tree. But still, even with sparrows and blue jays and mourning doves snuggling their bodies in her branches, it is not enough. Her flesh splits. She grows a gaping wound. The hole swallows a STOP sign, a bicycle, a park bench. Her husband begs her to stop. The contents she has consumed spill out. Her tears leave silvery tracks on the bark. She tells him he never understood what she wanted. He reaches for her and lets himself be devoured, sealed inside.


Her stomach is a shelf to lie on. Her children bite and suckle. Her milk is siphoned away until she is just a shell, a body whittled to nothing, a husk. Her children grow fat as silkworms while she starves. She knows her gluttonous children will kill her with their insatiable hunger, so she unwinds her long hair and then presses it like a rope to their opened mouths, stifles their mews of mama, mama.


Her children are afraid of the scarecrow’s twisted mouth and eyes like flint. Sometimes, she thinks of getting rid of it but remembers it’s necessary. Sometimes, her son and daughter pelt icy pebbles at the scarecrow. The scarecrow chases them, then lies down, defeated. Her children come inside and tell her how brave they were, how they tugged at its clothes and pulled its hair.  Once they have gone back into the warm house, she zips herself out of the scarecrow’s flesh and picks tomatoes and carrots from the garden, carries them in her arms to the house.


Her great-grandmother passed on the secret to her grandmother who passed it on to her mother. Grandmother’s was made from sand and shell and sea. Mother’s was made from spider web silk and candle wax. For her daughter, she makes a man made of snow. She sculpts him out of ice, chisel working the block, her hands stiff, sometimes growing so tired, blood streaking her clothes. Her daughter tells her mother she loves him. In the sunlight, the man melts in time with her daughter’s endless tears.

Candace Hartsuyker has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Trampset, Okay Donkey, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere.

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