Kirsten Kaschock

Working Note

This still feels like a work in process. It was longer, much longer, and has really only gone through the aggressive-type hack and slash editing. Unlike other pieces though, I left in the spaces where things were removed, and even some indication of what the removed language concerned. The impetus for the entire piece is (surprise, surprise) a true story: I had a son and chose not to learn his gender during the pregnancy. I dreamt that he was a she, and Sage was the name we chose for that she. Expectation is big in this poem, and sequence, and problems of sequence. I like the long line, how it works against my penchant for preciousness (I hope). I like the numbers, and had thought at first that they would correspond to the weeks of my condition, but they don’t. Still, they separate already derailing trains of thought, and help me keep my footing in the swamp of what this piece became (is becoming?). I usually have the urge to tie things up, and the best thing about writing this one is that it wouldn’t let me.

Gates of Sage


The song weeps because this one child was never born.

There were other children; there were even girls. None were her.

After she was not born, she became my tree-frog, my wisdom on the terrace, as her uncle was before her.

She had that liberty.

(I would say come, dancer. And she would not come. That kind of liberty.)

She was not owned. She did not fit in a mind-furrow or pocketbook. She did not want to fit. Even as an empty breath, she held herself blue.

In that way, you might think ahh, the poet. Well, that’s laughable.

Ferocity, her aunt. Her grandmother, ocean. She might have been something. Genetically speaking, female is our default. She was my daughter because she was not at all.

In May, spring comes to its first close. The fans come on, slicing.

                                                            Somewhere in this gap I had her laughing


Shadowgirls shouldn’t have such full lives, literarily.

It’s harder to pity them. I do a disservice to the genre, giving her mirth.

You want to think of her with her face behind a sheer in a pre-dawn sort of milieu. I know it.

What if I gave her a graveyard in the mid-west? A discolored monument in the shape of a worried saint? No. Cymbals crash. It’s that kind of song.

So, how to write her out. She’s cursive, at least. I know that. Not to lift the pencil up, I mean.

And she’s green. That’s in her name. She’s careful, on steps and in crowds. In crowds, there are so many just like her. But she keeps to me.

I need your hands                         is what she says.


My other child doesn’t know her. She knows him. She does little things like muss his hair as he sleeps.

Harmonious. That’s how I’d call it. Contrapuntal. She is a chord. The left hand, except in rags.

If he still played piano, my husband might be able to see.

                                                  In the hospital, there was a poster of a zebra

On my 25th St. Patrick’s Day, I dyed my hair white and tattooed the word dark on my ass. These markings, I chose out of some spite.

My life, my life, mine. A sick mirage, shabby, lasting too long.

Shatter. No mirror offered itself as inane but punctual omen. One should have. Enough of them at the time, ceiling to floor. Me using them to perfect a body.

A body without other considerations.


Note: Houses have too many walls. Ones that keep the outside out.

Ones that keep the inside in pieces.


Dance class. I came home. At eight, the age. I said             I don’t have the body for this.

Do you want to quit?   No.


I mean to be my mother’s daughter. To be that, it involves suffering.

I could have studied painting. Except I was after articulation. I was after revelation. After the apocalypse, clearly a dancing thing.


I remember the end of the world, come and come again. It took a full year, the year between the millennia. I crossed it like a tundra.

The core grows fiercer as the self is edited. Clippings. Straight black hairs in the bathtub. Centuries of inches.                  Shorter.                No, just above the shoulders; you still have to pull it up.

And then I shaved it.

My mother’s daughter should never want to be so, well, unattractive. 

(She liked my hair white, my mother did, brittle as icing.)


                                        In 9., definitions of what she is not. What she is, is


ghost. As contrary and/or pliant as any weed, any daughter, any brush untangling.

                                                            11. doesn’t.


My body as a house.

One guest room. One guest. Around my mind, the curtains were prepared for shift, winter draft. Around my mind, lemon chiffon — or pale yellow gingham.

Around my mind, the curtains’ responsibility was: paint sunlight out of weight — the January sky in this town. And April.

And behind the curtains, my clay brain — animus within the curtains.


Could my son have begun (rather than if he will end) his life as haunting:

presence, an odor of lilac on the back staircase.      flicker.                       
the normal shifts in temperature.  sudden, internal wind.                       
 shudder of motherhood.                              cold, ripe

then                 as quickly as               the house was un-empty
                        it is not                                            again

the child, doubly down, manifesting now, only
within the walls of its mother

the actual house, clear             a year, nearly
to wait                                                             (in open waiting
                                                                   in quiet waiting)
                      for bright full return                                              but This

this is lullaby—my son never so frail a terror.


She, she began as haunting, and there remains.


What I can see of her, from here, is all limb.

Four-pointed star. North star, not true north. North pole — not the actual north pole, but convenient facsimile.

If she is there, up, she is both star and black place that actual star resides, which may or may not be in the direction of the perceived star.

Gravity bends light, and she is heavy as locked doors.

She is the long-locked-in hair of stars. Hair — the part of us that died.

                                                             17./18. Ad/Omissions


My mother                       was not why I danced.

To feel ice-flecked wind on scalp skin, was only the one reason to move. To fly. To steal from/against. A different steel.

Tested mettle. Necessary to say “love” to say “son” every day. A different sun.Not anyone’s business.The weather of love arrives, troubling, during the short days. And so etches.

I do not say to her. She did not come beyond winter. I do not say these things. These things I am saying.


                                                            Each time I cut my hair
                                                            is you, Sage.  Uproot.  You
                                                            are my uproot.  My etch.


Something weights still in me for you. A lead plumb at the pit, the red open space at the top of my cervix.

With each child, mother is diminished. No one tells you this. Or how much you will bleed.


Oughtn’t I to leave it go? This diabolical umbilicus, kite string sans, get to spring, get there, just get.What I know is what was unexpected.

That as I scrape out space for her, I’ll have more.

Bio: Kirsten Kaschock is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in poetry from Syracuse University. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Yale University, and an M.F.A. in choreography from the University of Iowa. She has work forthcoming in Kalliope, Pleiades and Quarter After Eight and has published in the Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, Insurance, Fourteen Hills and VeRT.

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