The Many Deaths of the Wives by Leah Angstman

Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Midwesterner, unsure of what feels like home anymore. She is the recent winner of the Loudoun Library Foundation Poetry Award and Nantucket Directory Poetry Award and was a placed finalist in the Bevel Summers Prize for Short Fiction (Washington & Lee University), Pen 2 Paper Writing Competition (in both Poetry and Fiction categories), Saluda River Prize for Poetry, and Blue Bonnet Review Poetry Contest. She has earned three Pushcart Prize nominations and serves as Editor-in-Chief for Alternating Current Press and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, including Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, Electric Literature, Midwestern Gothic, Atticus Review, Slice Magazine, and Shenandoah. She can be found at leahangstman.com and on Twitter @LeahAngstman.

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The many deaths of the wives by Leah Angstman

“Several months ago my wife brought just this kind of
charge against me in Ventura [C]ounty, but the court
dismissed it within a few minutes. I admit I have been
drinking somewhat, but [. … s]he will not come into court
and swear that I threatened to kill her. We have been
married thirty-eight years and I have never killed her once.”
—M. B. Curtis, as quoted by The Oxnard Courier
at a hearing, May 16, 1913

Has he not? Not even once? I’m sure that I have lost to miscount
the unrecorded days and times of my deaths.
How he made me laugh in past lives, the currency of living,
and how the drink speaks through witty widemouthed clouds
in this one, his mouth puckered around it like a guppy.

Not once in thirty-eight years? Not when you hired young pupils too pretty,
and leased the Driskill Hotel with my savings? Not when the son
we created in New York left us between trains to Albany, and you, too gone
to pay a porter, punched a lender in the nose? What made the
Couriers from Denver to Maine then was
not how I walked Dumbarton Garden and
lopped the petals to rude stalks with our son’s fists,
but how yours were always at another man’s ruby-throated wallet.

It wasn’t I who died then, barren and fruitless and ill with chronic neuralgias?
What lofty plain knew us in harmony? Are there friends who remain
who ever knew us apart? Were we separate once, and how in thirty-eight years
have you grown into my thighs, the puffiness of eyes and cheeks and ropes of neck?
Did you never kill me because I would not die quiet?

Does this jury have the idea already—that grave knowledge
of how a woman leaves and leaves and leaves and leaves—
that your death certificate will read marriage status: unknown;
that mine, one more thing I never owned, will not even be written?
For all the deaths you’ve wrought me,
history still believes you died first, and died last,
and that I was never here at all.
 

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