BROKEN SESTINA FOR MARY BELL
It's my second month at Redgate, and my hands
have started shaking. A young offenders' home
intended for boys
isn’t a place with many mirrors
so it could’ve begun somewhere else, my face
growing into an unreflected stranger, a girl
whose lips wouldn't part if I smiled. I
spend a lot of time sitting on my hands,
staring at the side of the psychiatrist’s face.
He asks about my mother, about home,
about guilt and consequences and those two boys.
I ask to see a mirror.
He chuckles, says there are no mirrors,
rewords another question. I'm the only girl
in this overflowing building of messed-up boys
and they know: what I've done with my hands,
why I'm here. I don't talk to them, don't call this home.
Without looking, I can tell: I wear my crime all over my face.
When the TVs once again evening-news my face,
it is nothing like looking in a mirror.
The vans crowd around our house,
a swarm of pointing fingers. My daughter
is doing her math homework, hands
busy with geometry, half-dreaming about some boy.
My knees give out as the reporter
from Channel Five yells my name, my real name, face
hidden by a megaphone. My daughter's hands
stop moving and she looks at me, a mirror
of confusion. I am not a name to scare girls
with, not tabloid fodder—I am her mother. This is home.
The police smuggle us under blankets out of our house.
She stares wide-eyed at the boys
crowding the sidewalk, the girls
so eager for a glimpse of my face.
I watch them in the cop car's rearview mirror.
I take my daughter's hands.
I say, When I was a girl I didn't have a home.
My hands sought out the necks of little boys.
A dead child’s face was like looking in a mirror.
Cassandra reads "Broken Sestina for Mary Bell":
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Cassandra confesses: "I'm fascinated by the story of Mary Bell, who killed two young boys as a small child, writing 'There has been a boy who Just lay down and Died' in her school journal after the first murder. Much of this poem was inspired by Gitta Sereny's Cries Unheard."