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Tim Benjamin


My wife’s great aunt went into

an asylum at seventeen, pencil-thin, pious,

unconvinced the small knot of flesh

they’d cut from her stomach wall

wasn’t       in fact      immaculate. 

She left two years later, fifteen pounds 

heavier and an atheist, telling her parents 

she’d drowned God in the 

activities room toilet.

From there, her life was made of toast and 

quince jam, coffee, afternoon card games, a sullen 

cigarette on the back porch at sunset

with a brother who taught her how to

swear in French, insomnia.

The doctor who’d performed the operation

came every other week, injected her with a 

neuroleptic, and stayed for dinner.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, before or

since,” he’d always say, as if

for the first time and as if to himself,

and raise a glass of Malbec in honor 

of nature’s unpredictable plot, while

under the stone fountain in

the back yard, just out of earshot, 

his name-making patient sewed together 

featureless dolls out of strips of old pants, 

dish cloths, thread and dried beans.

“One in every half a million live births,” he’d say. “They 

want me to give a speech in Boston next month!”

The family was wealthy; otherwise, as my

mother-in-law reasons, who knows?

She could have been a martyr, a 

dead, canceled saint, something besides 

the zombified curiosity once or twice referenced 

in out-of-date medical books. 

There’s always a plan, she claims;

but to have a part of yourself lopped off—even 

if it would eventually kill you—

there’s your crisis of faith.

And the night they found her under the

stone fountain, twenty-two,

alone in the house for the first time in 

at least a year, the doctor was stumped, but 

impressed: it wasn’t pills or the old pistol her 

brother used to shoot pigeons in the summer, 

but an incision, just to the left of the costal arch;

the scar doubling as guide for the 

boning knife, her hand, to the wrist, missing, 

stuffed inside the wound and wrapped

around her large intestine.


That night we tossed in and out of sleep. The second floor 

seemed to hover off its bearing walls and a street lamp flickered 

code through the window box. Dreams woke cranky in me;  

shadows cut by caddy-corner apartments gave everything a staged 

feeling. What time was it? Time enough for a low, uncouth

baseline from a hatchback on 16th to make the rubber night 

shudder. Voices nailed to the thud of boot heels rose to and took 

the corner. But mostly an indifferent silence held sway. At some point 

my hand pulled your hip and found it turned to me like a globe on its 

meridian. We’d spent three nights there already, boxes with untaped 

flaps still pushed to a corner and took bad moods to bed where they 

smothered our muffled good nights. Not easy to simply slot oneself 

into a life’s opening: the oven failed to turn on and there were the 

suspicions of bedbug season, but time had conspired with space to bring 

us there and the credit check had sealed its prosecution. I don’t really 

know what it was. Suddenly that thing that words fail took over. Or the 

flickering light compelled proof of our intentions, noticing your 

breathing seize and shallow. In any case, we made love half-sunk and 

inseparable into another spotty night of sleep. Next day, bewitched, we 

took a walk through a city begging for its spring. 

         We’ve been here since.      

Tim Benjamin’s prose and translations have appeared in various magazines in the States and internationally. He splits his time between Philadelphia and Santiago, Chile.

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