Mary Cotton’s Premonition

“They say Jack the Ripper was England’s first serial killer, but that’s only because the others have been forgotten for a hundred years…These quieter killers were poor, migratory, humble. They fed their children poison. They were desperate…They were women.” – The Big Book of Female Killers: Mary Ann Cotton, the Arsenic Queen

Just my body swimming deep below my skin
and the splintered wood above my bed:

Husband Will went to sea. I dreamt
               that water swallowed him
                           brine preserved him
                                   and mermaids delivered him
blue and hollow, to my door.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a candle to light you
               to oceans in my womb,

oceans in a hot cup a’tea. Husbands
for a ha’penny, a ladder made
               of little fingers
               and a larder full of coal.

My dreams are loud with wails and nappies.
My eyes are splintered buckets full of bile.
Choleric humour like arsenic. The past empty as sockets.

When I returned
ther wos no home for me.

I stood once by the ocean
and watched the unfettered grey waves break.
               Fevers break, and my neck breaks with them.

Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
until tiny graves give up their tiny dead.

– Elizabeth Theriot