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Julie Benesh

A Brief History of Divorce


Comes from the Greek: Divide         Divert.

Now diverse issues deter demand until death 

do part. Deuteronomy decreed if a captive 

consort failed to please, her master could leave


her, but Matthew said divorce was a concession

to the injured party, meaning, often, the faithful

deservers of freedom. So: (which) chicken (threw

the first) egg? The first legal Puritan divorce 


was in 1639, but even that started sometime before;

such actions begin with thoughts based on other

thoughts. It never occurred to me as a solution,

the way it did you, pacing around, your sapphire 


robe spinning around your pale sacrificial calves, 

so I'd say you started it. Jesus said it was the hard-

ness of human hearts that made it possible, not to say 

OK. But he wasn't talking about us; we're faithless


atheists. (And I think it was your head 

that was hard.) The concept of constructive 

abandonment implied it took two or more 

to weave a tangle, opening the way to no fault 


because everyone's to blame when the veil 

blows aside and all's betrayed. Your resolute dissolution

 / disposition of marriage was supposed to be a success-

ful completion, like graduation or paying off a mortgage, 


some fairy tale or myth of travail and prevail:

how'd that work out for you, my brother?−

but for me it was getting kicked out of school, 

fired from my post, and evicted, and then winning 


a lottery, like I somehow got that surfeit of opportunities

you'd wanted for yourself. Then again, everyone knows

all those lottery winners remain losers and end up even worse

off, amirite? So, let's just call it                even.



On the Cusp of Wakefulness


I think about my mother,

last seen in 1986 decked red

and fuchsia, taking corners

too fast in her Plymouth duster

we called the blue bomber,

still making my nose itch.


She thought she'd make a sexy man,

so maybe she went undercover,

an earthy intellectual high school dropout

yelling during football or pinochle, games

but quiet around other women, mothers

of my classmates: wives of doctors


or lawyers. A night owl, and extrovert, 

was she as my own genes say I should 

be, but I'm a dawn-breaking introvert, 

like my father, who was not, as I used 

to fantasize, the mailman, or some 

dashing husband of one of her friends,


but her own husband, who outlived

her by nearly two decades. Love,

she taught me, is like fashion: a text

both subversive and conformist

set to conceal and reveal in equal 

measure. I wonder what she'd think


of my life, or what she does think,

of my bedazzled jeans and glib wants,

my tragi-comedic multiple careers, 

the cat who flings herself against 

me; stares, knowingly, into my eyes 

and, occasionally, gentles her teeth 


                       into my wrist.



Julie Benesh is author of the chapbook About Time, published by Cathexis Northwest Press. Her poetry collection Initial Conditions is forthcoming in March, 2024, from Saddle Road Press. She has been published in Tin House, Another Chicago Magazine, Florida Review, and many other places. She earned an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and received an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Read more at


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