from Blood Box: a chapbook on Lizzie Borden

On the morning of August 4, 1892 in Fall River, MA, Lizzie Andrew Borden, 32 years of age, allegedly hacked her step-mother Abby and father Andrew to death with a hatchet (the weapon never found). Despite no other suspects emerging, Borden was acquitted of the crime June 30, 1893, living in Fall River with her sister Emma the rest of her life. "Blood Box" is a forthcoming chapbook exploring the life of Lizzie Borden. Here's a five poem sample. Follow for updates!

Inquest Testimony, 1892


The day before the murders my uncle visits, seeped
in dust from the cattle farms out West.

Face bristled, muscled arms bulging. The maid—
who Emma and I call Maggie though her name is really Bridget
picks up his sullied bowler from the hook he flings it onto.

Over dinner, he tells us: “Iowa is a venerable baptism!” And:
“I feel reborn by the work!” He asks for $1,000. Maggie
watches from the eaves— Mrs. Borden handles the cooking

on nights with company, so the maid hides
her presence, avoids Father’s
hatchet face and shadow. She corners me

after dinner, asks again to leave—“it’s not the work
that’s the problem,” she says, “it’s the dreams.”
Do I feel pity? Officially I say

nothing, but in private I hoped to sit down, hold her
hand, tell her my own visions. The trees are dying

in the heat. Red splattering everything.
And moving towards the front door,

I almost lose myself. Entering home
like an omen, it emerges: a husk

of person who looks like all of us,
but acts like us as well.

If I Did It


Then I must sleep in a sheet twisted
tight with blood, stomach heavy through the night.
Then I know the scream of the ferry.
Then “family” a word that stirs and stirs.
What use are doors in this weather? Of course

we hear everything— Father’s moans ghost
through walls like cheesecloth. Here is a day.
            Here is another.
There’s nothing to do but eat,
piling one plate then the next, pears
plummeting from the backyard brown as
blood. Father never
talks anymore, and Mrs Borden
changes in my sleep to someone

who is still alive. We always lock our
rooms. My nightgown the finest terricloth
or linen. Look at my face, my flushed cheek,
my lips. Look at my tenderness.

If I told you it was an intruder who did it,

would you take my hand in yours
and touch my trembling back?
It was. It was. Oh God, it was.

The Maid Speaks, 1893


And they do keep me in their meanness

          And I am not safe

And this summer so hot—

          I am molting everyone is.

Do you see the sheets crisping in the wind

Do you see the feathers, falling still from

every single tree

Yes I saw the bodies

Who didnt

Visiting the Bordens, August 2nd, 1892

John V. Morse

I’m talking about being possessed by something.
Back out West, we called it heat lightning. Here,
something else. Maybe fester? I have a man—
he breeds the cattle and I sell them. At night,
he wraps his arms around me like garters.
I miss my house—scrabble of a roof, dewdrops
at night and lizards in morning— more and more
each day of this terrible trip. I miss your sweet lips,
scratch of bristle. Do you have the same longings?
Here, there are just walls inside walls,
step-sibling Andrew’s petty study. Quiet Emma.
And strange Lizzie, who seems bound by a box
of its own sort—a feeling, I must confess, not
entirely foreign to me, either. Now. Here.

Church, 1890


Do I believe in a God? Of course I do.
I pray daily—sometimes at First Church,

sometimes Central Congregational Universal
Blood of Christ. I make my bedroom a place

of sanctity. I’m a good Christian.
I pray for fresh fruit, an end to the heat. I

never expect a reply. The God I know
lives behind a locked door, and only hoards

His good things. If He has children,
He beats them without fail. If He has neighbors,

He chops apart their houses. Tell me,
who wouldn’t believe. My father emerges

from the study and only speaks to the maid,
or his grubby wife, or my sister. I’m in constant

pain. The minister says, “God is all around us.”
Tell me. Who could require more proof than that.