In 1916 Helen Keller and Peter Fagan were briefly, and secretly, engaged.

Fear unfurls in her throat 
like Mother’s peonies—
how they open and open, 
hands inside of hands.

And heat curls her hair
into angry bees, leaves welts
at her jawline. Her skirt, 
layered like the peony, 
complicates walking. Yet she loves
what is complicated: 
dresses with masses of ribbon, 
others’ hands at her back, 
the intricate wheels and rods
of a typewriter, keys
that fit her fingers like petals.

Mother hates the smell 
of oil and ink. She told 
Mother once that she loved 
best the flowers 
with velvet tongues, 
how they leave sex 
on her fingertips. 
Pistil, pestle, piston
She presses her open palm.

You’ve ripped your dress again
Mother says, the words
on her lips like molting skin. 
She takes each word in hand, 
imagines crushing
pinecones, eggshells.

Read this and “Show Horse” on Wordgathering.