'Strangers Crowded His Open Coffin...'

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I love this Julianna Baggot piece...

Mary Todd On Her Deathbed

I can hear them, choking on spoons, screaming,
in the shower stalls; the fat are given only
a raw egg and whiskey
                                   
                                  and those who refuse
to eat are force-fed. The least crazy sing,
picking scalp scabs in window-seats.
One woman finds scissors

                                        and stabs herself
again and again. It was the tireless Jew
who wore me down; no one believed
that he followed me

                             from train to train
with his satchel of poisons sneering
as they searched my baggage
for the stolen footstools, how he knew
that I shuffled because my petticoats,
stitched so tight with money,

                                           had become a heavy net
for dredging the lost. And I do not speak of the lost:
Abe could have worn me as a boutonnière
my pinched face, say it: an ugly plump bud,
hoisted skirts and petticoats

                                         
the leaf and ribbon trim.
I remember the hoisted skirts
how his body seemed

                                     a long white country of its own
But it was owned by a country
of citizens as unruly as my dead boys,
my dead boys

                      roaring through the White House.
Nothing was mine, after all. Strangers
crowded his open coffin, snipped souvenirs
from the curtains,

                           slipped hands
into the casket to unclip his cufflinks.
All the while they could hear me
 
                                                wailing from bed.
Every day I can move slightly less;
each body hinge becomes more stubborn

                                                              than memory.
I know how I will die: a clenched jaw,
fists gripping bed sheets. Stiff with longing,
I will have to break 
                            into heaven, the willows
in my handmade girldhood hoop-skirt snapping.

From the book Lizzie Borden In Love, which, after some years of contemplation, I have belatedly decided to cop.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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