“Letter to a Daughter I Refuse to Bear” by Cynthia M. Hoffman

Cynthia M. Hoffman


I’ve decided not to bear a child. In fact, I’ve decided
never to make love again. I figure
what’s the goddamn point?

You mustn’t be angry. I can recount what your life
would have been had you lived it. I can tell you
what you’re missing.

You will be born with a hereditary brain abnormality.

Now, the brain really is quite fascinating. Picture
the veins in an autumn leaf. Picture an orange
and divide it into sections. Attach electrodes.
Imagine a lightning storm in a cloud of orange peels.

Normalcy is determined by the presence or absence of certain chemicals.
Happiness is an electric eel under water.

You will be beautiful, everyone will say so,
and when you turn your head
your curls will swing out like the ribbons on a Maypole.
All the men will be reaching for them.

At seven the Pastor will ask you to be Mary
in the Christmas pageant but you are too afraid.
I rearrange things so you can wear cardboard wings
and not have to say a word. I know
this is how you are most comfortable.

As soon as you turn sixteen you will be raped.
You will roll pieces of toilet paper into your underwear
to catch the blood. He drives you home and I invite him in
for marshmallows and hot chocolate. You stand
just to the left of the three kings and say nothing.

I will read you Rilke’s Book of Hours.
I tell you: That’s all there is. Only an ocean
where now and again islands appear.
That’s all there is: no harps, no angels.
I will love you more than I ever wanted to.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


Cynthia M. Hoffman: “I spent my formative years in England, where I stole green pebbles from graves just beyond the playground. This is where I first began to tell my mother stories.”

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