A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbits
Mary Toft, April 1726
For months, I dreamed about rabbits,
in my lap, in my hands, I fell in the field
eye-level with their soft ears, rough teeth
gnawing at me, all night, all morning.
They followed me until I turned to chase
them, too quick for woman hands, a wide berth
around my wide body. I had failed to birth
my little girl, her slickness slim as a rabbit,
slipped out still, left me to chase
saints in the Bible, alone, alone in a field
of heartache. The midwife left me mourning
so I unsteepled my hands from prayer, clenched my teeth.
I wanted a wonder, hard as gold between my teeth.
If I couldn’t bear a baby, then I’d birth
a miracle. Pink dawn split of morning,
my pink dawn open to rabbits.
Dry womb, a burrow. Thighs, a field,
a pale moon hung low, chasing
strings of clouds. I sent a girl, dog chasing
her ankles, to the doctor. He sent for the queen. Teeth
grinding, I pushed and pushed, fielded
their inquiries, my body a spectacle of birth,
miracle of monstrosity, more and more rabbit.
Cringing in constant labor left no time for morning
sickness or conception, just wailing, morning
til night, my ghost girl giving chase
to the slick river, body after body, rabbit
after rabbit, pointed ears and sharp teeth,
I almost missed death’s ferry berthed
just outside the window, just before the field
no longer a swaying field.
I begged for coins in my eyes, mourners
to don their black veils, bury the afterbirth
once my body stopped chasing
breath, ceased chattering teeth
but my heart would only beat, wild rabbit
thing. Pelts, eyes, teeth. Bed a mess of afterbirth, I float
to the field each morning, chase the one baby
I wished for. Curse this curse of birth.
Not rodent, not girl, hands pink and soft as want.
For you, I sang this nocturne: another drink.
Crushed my empty-can heart into the trash bag,
dragged it to the curb.
Possums leave their parents’ homes and then they thrive. Immune to Lyme disease, she drinks too much, flicks her pink tail. Kills ticks. She finds what’s good to eat, stops filing her pointed teeth down to rough nubbins.
There’s no one way to scurry across a fence. There’s no one way to prowl around the tall trees. Possum women consider the knife, the cabbage—they open their mouths in photographs, bitter honey.
At some point in their lives, all possum women play dead, decide they don’t want what first felt like a good idea. If she’s lucky, the man in the bed will believe, shovel her into a trash can without feeling for a pulse. Without petting her soft belly, uninvited.
A possum peeks in the kitchen window, hungry for zucchini skins and coffee grounds. She’s never napped in a field of clover. She tries to be docile, easy—wiping her pink feet on the WELCOME mat. She doesn’t believe in new starts, in salt or blood. She knows not to ask for too much.
(after Jasmine An)