Paula C. Lowe

The Perpetual Melancholy of Pauline Larson

1898 – 1945                         


On the flat palm of prairie, you were born to wail

in the muffling dark of broken sod

and barn stones cobbled from the land

like potatoes peeled with a knife into a white

tin basin.


You were a blue girl inside a ring of desperate trees

circled with their backs to the northwest wind,

a daughter darning socks by a brother

whittling sticks while a blizzard

drift-locked your doors.


Pauline, how did you carry on in that county

of perpetual melancholy, wear wool washed

in muddy water pailed from Beaver Creek,

wear stains of silt that wouldn’t beat out

even as you stretched your skirts

over chokecherry?


Busted banks and world wars took and broke men

and sent them back to fields and streets of Hadley

with no wheat to feed them.


How did you lift despair in your hands and learn

to drink its tea so calmly? Marry a road

maker back from the trenches, bring

up babies in a caboose at the back

of his mule caravan?


How did you raise your only boy to let the ships

make him a man, dress him in sailor whites

washed in bleach to blur his fear sweat?


And more war? And then the war in your chest,

the knife in your breast.


How did you roast your last Easter meal, carry high

the platter of ham in your swollen arms

to your son come home in uniform?

How did you live that long?



Winnie B. and 100,000 Lobotomies


— For those, in the Mid-Twentieth Century,

subjected to surgery that severed the nerves

connecting the front part of the brain

to the thalamus.


I am bringing back your frontal lobe,

I am bringing back the skull they broke in two–


you climbing the bars in the third floor white room,

you with your toes in the bars, your teeth


screw driving the screws to chew off the grate,

you with your shaved head, you in your sized too small


straight jacket in the third floor white room

(They said you were waiting).


I am bringing back your frontal lobe,

I am bringing back the skull. They used a drill.


Dr. Oh diagnosed a mote in your eye, blinding, you see,

blinding you so you couldn’t look after your daughter,


couldn’t cook sausage in a pan for the father of your daughter

on the stove he bought in the kitchen in the house in the town


he loved more than you running down the street screaming, more

than you running your Norwegian tongue naked down the street.


I am bringing back your frontal lobe, I am bringing back

the skull they drilled into, and the motes that fell on the floor



and fled down the fire escape when Dr. Oh, he didn’t look

for them, put down his drill or ice pick, didn’t take off


his dripping red gloves, his wet lab coat, I come for the bits

of you they took from you, I come to hold the name of you,


Winefred, take it with me from the floor of the institution.

It was wrong to claim you were waiting.


Paula C. Lowe lives on a cattle ranch three hours north of LA. Her poems appear in Poet Lore, The Comstock Review, Tule Review,Askew, The Iowa Review, DogwoodSow’s Ear and more. Her latest book, Moo, releases in early 2014, and her poems appear in the anthologies Bird as Black as the Sun and Poems For Endangered Places. Formerly managing editor for Solo Press, Lowe is a co-publisher at Big Yes Press.


About Copperfield

Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for short historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.
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