My Babysitter Karen B Who Was Sent to Willard Asylum

Winner, New Ohio Review Poetry Contest
selected by Kevin Prufer

By Jessica Cuello

There are only two photos of me as a child.
She took them, she had no child.

She had Kool Cigarettes and a job at the drugstore.
She gave me the Crayola box with the built-in sharpener.

Four hundred suitcases were stored in the attic
of Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane.

She joined her twin brother there.
She wore her black hair down.

A child could admire it.
She bought me an Easter basket,

a stuffed rabbit whose fur rubbed off.
She walked everywhere.

She painted circles of blush on her cheeks.
Loony, people said so,

I mean grown-ups who saw signs
who passed her on our street before she

started to call and say Remember,
on the phone she said Remember,

Remember the date we killed her brother,
forgetting he’d been committed.

I took her hand and tagged along like an animal.
She was perfect to a child.

In 1995, when the asylum closed,
an artist took photos of the 400 suitcases.

The photos were put online,
the contents laid out respectfully.

In the open suitcases: belts,
pocket knives, Lone Ranger cards,

keys, ribbons, shoe polish,
mirrors, pills, a fountain pen,

bottle of glycerine, a zither,
kit of needles, bread ration card,

The Gospel of John, a letter.
Each suitcase had a name:

Lena C, Lillian L, Mary T
Gloria P, Cassie M, Francis T

Marian R, Catherine S, Dmytre Z
Ruby C, Anthony C, FJL

Viola G, Alice T, Carrie L
Karen B, Remember.

Jessica Cuello is the author of Liar, selected by Dorianne Laux for the 2020 Barrow Street Book Prize and forthcoming in 2021. She is also the author of Hunt (The Word Works, 2017) and Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016). She has been awarded The 2017 CNY Book Award, The 2016 Washington Prize, The New Letters Poetry Prize, a Saltonstall Fellowship, and The New Ohio Review Poetry Prize. She is a poetry editor at Tahoma Literary Review.

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