THE COST OF COFFINS

But the infant’s death is sheer, unmitigated waste—Marie Stopes “The Cost of Coffins”


JENNIFER GIVHAN

At the beginning of a century before women could vote

she wrote books teaching women how to use contraceptives

She studied medicine and became a doctor

while my great-great grandmothers were picking grapes and walnuts

in fields birthing baby after baby

One crossed the border pregnant to have her baby on this side

 
through desert through pitching heat

through sour-swollen night & animal bites & insect-

icides (infant-) But the infant in the dog kennel

I donate book royalties to try & save though that feels faceless

as Moses in a reedy raft— what of that child?

They found alligators in the Río Grande & God

my own brown babies are safe enough

for how long swimming in the public pool all summer


I hold only broken altars for the shame we’re carrying

for the twelve candles on my Jer Bear’s Cars cake

burning alongside the brackish earth of Tamir’s

& when it seems my heart can’t take

another fucking inch of this broken spoke that’s been

working like grease like oil in water for the well-


educated like that suffragette white

woman a century ago advocating


sterilization of poor

brown women

 
like the white women now who look at the pictures

of my ancestors’ children, my ancestors’ best

 
hope, face-down in the waters they sing

now gator-homes rather than the graveyard they made

with their indifference or their silent guilt or their

range of hate, and say, They’re not our children

when I cannot take them back into my broken

altar of a body, crossroads for hips, bone-splitting


for motherlove—         all I can offer are prayers

to Santa Muerte herself, patron saint

of Death

& the deaths I’m asking for

aren’t ours.

JENNIFER GIVHAN, a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert, is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Rosa’s Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, 2019), two chapbooks, and two novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee, both forthcoming from Blackstone Press. Her poems have appeared in The Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Poetry, The New Republic, Crazyhorse, and Kenyon Review. She has received, among other honors, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellowship, and New Ohio Review’s Poetry Prize, chosen by Tyehimba Jess.