In the Lizzie Borden Opera

Lizzie goes crazy before she kills.
We watch her moods quick shifts
from dutiful to angry, each a new
idea bursting in her brain,
an epiphany making other facts
and feelings vanish for the moment.
The writer makes it clear our Lizzie
needs a man for some odd reason: jealous
grudge against Sister, father who never
will tolerate her speech, family
that prison her too long in childhood,
because she should have been a man,
or the good mother gone for good.
In opera it takes this much
to move a woman to make patricide.
Not so in life. On Evening News

we watch a face you claim
the saddest you have ever seen.
Certainly her brown hair hangs limp.
We don’t see polished anger or the flat
nothing I’ve seen in the men who kill.
Once more a battered wife has killed
her child. We are supposed to act
surprised; news presents trial as spectacle.
More than once a week, I feel like it,
like killing someone, usually you,
though it could be my mother, father,
the step-something-or-other. That’s in my
family deep, but I suspect, when you stand
waving ultimatums in my face
like pointed fingers, it’s the human part
we want so much to hide. Not a
new idea and some might claim mere rage.
I know it jumps out inevitable
as night, as shit, as rain, as worms.

Must Lizzie’s ax appear suddenly
in her hand? Does the gun have to rise
to your side? What makes anger,
a moment’s rage in the midst of love
turn toward death? In the Lizzie opera
we’re frightened to sympathy, seeing
she has nowhere to hide. I keep trying,
running the same old territory, to work
it out with words. On days like today
when I sit alone in the hot car, fled,
the words seem like the last solace to fail.
When I go back, I expect nothing. More
groans perhaps, your best choice somewhere
between silence, forgetting, and a grudge.

Laura Lee Washburn