Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Spinster – L.A. Owens

She would have been a very remarkable woman, if she had not been an old maid.
–Thomas Nelson Page

You were destined.
Born in the wane,
hollow within hollow,
equipped at birth with the black new moon
of an empty belly,
barren as the plain that emerged as the first great flood
retreated to the oceans,
your body the sigil
of God’s wrath.

Join a church. Volunteer.
Make yourself useful.
Transform your flesh into a flour scoop,
your embrace a basket,
a hollow thing meant
for service.
Learn to make tea, demure and blush.
Practice your Pym.

No. Do not say “desire,”
for your body is untouched.
Do not say “body,”
for your flesh is vile.
In fact, we’d prefer
that you did not say much.
Just whistle.

We’ve said it before:
you think too much.
Your face is too serious, your expression
dark with thought, with fear,
dark as the blood that slips from a womb
with nothing in it.

But you persist. Why?
Stop your haunting,
spinning your ghostly minuets
in the corners of our stairwells,
whipping up scrums
of scrap paper and leaves.

You’re like a second-hand doll with a drawn-out string:
you just keep telling,
and telling,
and telling this story.

We all know a kiss’s power:
its presence or its absence
can transform you.
It’s strong magic that has left you here
rocking in a corner, knotting at straw hanks,
scrabbling your fingers to make husk dollies
to work your curses by.
You unfuckable monster.
Wrong woman, witch woman,
cackling old crone.

Rusalka, demon of the water,
we will not touch you
though your skin grows
dream-white in the nighttime.
Though your embrace is soft, we know
it is just the endless churn
of maggots swimming.

We know you.
Know what you can break apart:
one pebble can shatter a window pane.
One fish’s silver body is all it takes
to part the whole black ocean.

Keep to yourself.
Sink sleepily into your hoard.
Sharpen your scales on iron and onyx,
breathe your contented sighs of smoke.
What do we care that the heart that houses
a dragon must become
a blister?

Draw on woman’s innate coldness to save you.
Remember all that you could have had if you only
burned to ash for someone, given him at last
the softness he craved.

It’s true that we pity you,
but there’s always someone to pity.
In seasons dry or wet, need
is the only renewable resource.
No matter where you are,
there is never enough love.
Someone has to wander
alone into the forest.
Someone has to meet the gods
and feed them
with her flesh.

We cast you off.
Goodbye, goodbye!
Leave the mainland to the others, let your island slip
into the Pacific with a slow, tectonic sigh.
Weave a shelter, whittle a spear,
tend the bunch of rags you’ve saved,
sack of your life’s detritus.
Do what you like with them.
They’re the only things you will ever own,
these worn-out, wheezing words.

L. A. Owens’s work has appeared most recently in Snowy Egret, The Sierra Nevada Review, and The Louisville Review. She completed an MFA in poetry from Penn State before moving to Kansas where she works in higher education. She recently completed her first chapbook The Farthest Shore, which deals with regret, forgetting, and spinsterhood. You can find her on Tumblr at

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