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Previously appeared in Copper Nickel.
2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

At first it was easy to tell the story
because it was actually happening
right then so we could tell each other
the story of how a disease infiltrates
a body but even then we did not recount
all the parts only the best ones
ending with how strong we were
and graceful but it started to get harder
because you had to go back to work
and I was still sick so now it was just me
and new people and most people
don’t want to hear your story
of grief unless they knew you before
see grief in a new person is ugly but
I kept practicing because I was hopeful
that one day I might tell the part
about that morning in bed—you remember—
the lake was choppy and it was hot
and raining so we closed up the house—
remember it was you and me
and the baby in bed—she was hungry
and I had to roll away and then we were crying
because we knew it was beyond the point
whether we were strong or graceful
and you were crying too and in fact
I’m still trying to tell that story
or at least write it down but I end up
talking instead about food and baby formula
and freezers of breastmilk from strangers
and how to arrange the bags precisely
so the milk doesn’t sour and of course
I always mention gratitude because
people like that ending.



Broken Portrait

Previously appeared in Tupelo Quarterly.
2020 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry, Finalist

In Kansas, I hold the baby to my chest in the hallway of a crappy motel.
The tornado sirens are loud or soft depending on the wind.


It’s been a long winter, but I’m beginning to brighten, says my mom, And we’ve emptied
one of our three storage units.


The doctors can’t decide whether my lungs are blooming with tumors or
infection. The weeds look beautiful in the scan, unfolding and growing like
psychedelic flowers.


He fills our bathtub hot. Snow falls in the early Minneapolis winter. We watch
the water spill over my heaving belly.


No one tells me they’ve sewn my hymen to the outside of my body. For many
reasons, I am afraid of nearness.


I’m goin’ honky-tonkin’, get tight as I can, maybe by then you’ll ‘preciate a good man—
George Jones croons through car speakers.


During cancer I pray to an unfamiliar God. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.


When we look up, hundreds of grackle claws on electric wires over the pet
food store. In every other direction: no birds.


Once a week, a woman puts gloved fingers inside me. We are trying to reset
my brain with clinical experiences.


The neighbor whose name I don’t remember draws a chalk outline around my
daughter on our porch. It does not wash away, a near-human shape, white on


I married a good man. He loves me and irons his own shirts. I’m spoiled.


I mean I am rotten.




Chelsea B. DesAutels’s work appears or is forthcoming in PloughsharesMissouri Review, Copper Nickel, Massachusetts Review, Adroit JournalPleiades, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. Chelsea earned an MFA from the University of Houston, where she received the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry and served as Poetry Editor of Gulf Coast. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.

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