Anna Kelley


She cut the shoes off her brothers’ feet, and fastened the soles on her own.


—Jean Godin des Odonais, in a letter about his wife Isabel, who travelled 3,000 miles through the Amazon to reunite with him after a separation of twenty years; of the forty-three people in her party, only she survived



Jean     I left my brothers’ bodies in the dirt

with their eyes still open          their eyes thick with flies


I could not bear to shut them               red-eyed flies crawling

to drink my brothers’ dew       flies burrowed in the blight

that was my brothers


I lay down with them for two days but could not die

could never                  my heart went on knocking all the same

it drowned out the choir of our children crying mama

when they died            Jean     it knocked

heavy as a pestle while you were trapped in Cayenne


in Cayenne I will regrow my skin and hair     years ago

we sat beneath the jarina trees watching the flies buzz

over the fruit and I taught you how to tie the quipu

with handfuls of white grass               with my black braids


we tied the quipu for two and your shirt smelled

astonishing as sour as old rain they have even taken


the skin from my lips

I spit blood to say your name              to say Jean I rattle

a coarse grain of rice in my throat till it scratches

and makes sound


and give my blood to the flies             I took only the soles

of their shoes and a seed from Eugenio’s mouth

that he never finished chewing and it tasted sweet


as the dew settling cool upon

my brothers’ faces turn to bowls of cold mazamorra and

I eat them flies and all              on rolls of cold paper

you would sketch the blue macaws eating clay by the river

and holler their songs through the house till the baby



in Cayenne I will         they walk ahead of me in clean clothes

and hide when I           Heloise Joachim Rosa Eugenio

Eugenio           their naked feet            there is no maid no baby no

brothers           was never any sound but the knock


the flies            like your macaws I eat clay     I have peeled

and eaten each of my fingernails in turn and they tasted

better than our wedding dinner            I tied the vines full

of figure-eight knots                broke my hand open

with a pestle to feed them


my brothers the flies    chorusing your name in high voices


Anna Kelley is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. She is a reader for Salt Hill. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Citron Review, Literary Orphans, Up the Staircase Quarterly, CICADA, Split Lip Magazine, and others.

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