Jan Bailey


She was the woman who opened
to anything and took in
all the wrong loves: the usual
bullies and bruisers, but even
boys who feigned adoration,
told her long and poignant fictions
of their absent mothers until
she spread her meaty arms, crushed them
to her breasts believing as
women do that they were hers forever.
Old men she took in, men who gummed
her, tore at her gown, their knees quaking.
Some hobbled in on silver crutches,
some arrived in carts towed by lackeys,
their feet oozing, heads bound in sacking.
All manner of wooly strays she
fed both heart and liver, and when
she sat atop them, cried out
long before they came.
Nights her bed bloomed with the troubled,
the maimed, the misunderstood whose
woes spilled about her sheets in syrupy
sighs. She took in misanthropes and
actors, gypsies, the permanently
insane. Soon the neighborhood complained
about the stench, the incessant
rocking. Soon the windows snapped, doors
blew open. Still she loved them and
whatever they offered – a burp,
fart in the sheets – she took as
encouragement. Feast for the forlorn.
Eventually the elders
condemned her, boarded up the ruin.
But spiders snuck in on three legs,
beetles with their backs snapped, crickets
stalked her pillows till she crooned them,
long after they cried Stop.