Three Poems by Kelli Hansel Haywood

Decisions After the Birth of Mae Ellen, 1934

She only weighs three pounds.

I fasten her baby gown to a pillow

with safety pins

so as she doesn't slip through

the crooks of my arms.

I couldn't eat much

once mommy found out

and sent me by train to her family 

in Olive Hill.

I was born in Olive Hill, but I don't

remember much about living here

except mommy having baby sissy

and then baby sissy died.

“Laurelin, you're the oldest," mommy said.

"What kind of example is that for your sisters?"

Mae Ellen doesn't cry much.

They say it'll be a wonder if she lives.

She'll live.

She's quiet because she's already been an angel.

She don't know no kind of heavy.

She looks like an angel.

Little cupid bow lips.

I am sure she came a month early.

Daddy said he'd kill that son of a bitch.

Daddy's sheriff.

I wouldn't tell no one who it was.

I never will.

Daddy only said that once,

then he just stopped talking to me,

like he didn't see me.

Told mommy to take care of it.

When I bring Mae Ellen home,

I'm going to talk proper

like I've been somewhere important.

I've been practicing,

reading books out loud.

I'll make a teacher,

and I'll read to my pupils

about the grandest halls of Buckingham Palace,

like I've been there myself.

Because I don't sound like no hillbilly,

they won't know the difference.

Maybe I have been there.

Daddy and mommy both know how smart I am.

Mommy always told me that her great uncle was Henry Clay,

the Great Orator of Kentucky.

She always said we shouldn't count ourselves short.

They know I didn't let no man

take advantage of me.

They didn't raise me like that.

No, I let him inside me.

I wanted him there.

A girl doesn't feel very important ever

until she sees what kind of power she has over a man.

When he was inside me, he wasn't stronger than me.

It was like he had been thirsty for hours.

Like he just come out of the mine covered in dry soot

and had forgotten to refill his canteen before the shift.

When I saw how he looked at me,

I knew he'd do just about anything

in that one moment.

I let him have me.

I wanted to know how he'd turn all 

that want into something

powerfully sweet.

Mae Ellen will wear curls 

like Shirley Temple.

I'll tear up rags and wrap 

them in her golden hair

until there are tight little ringlets.

We won't be ashamed, even when they whisper.

I'll hold myself like a movie star.

Like Mae West.

Maybe they'll think I was married a moment

to a rich man who died at sea.

They won't know no better.

I won't never tell who it was.

Not even Mae Ellen.

I'll talk proper when I get back 

to Rocking Creek.

Mae Ellen will too.

It's October now.

Mommy said she'd send money for the train

after Christmas.

It'll be a cold ride home.



Mamaw wrote to me once about her
memory of you:
“My Mamaw Arizona took in washings
and did ironings for people to sustain them.
I can remember her standing on that good
leg with her bad leg in a chair and ironing
all day to make a living.”
In the quiet and repetitive motion
you felt the story you ran to escape
closing into the silence.

It becomes too much.
I retreat to my room to fold laundry.
The warmth, smell,
organizing into piles for drawers or hangers,
even seams,
matching socks.
It is quiet.
It is doing.
Productivity when my mind is too tired
to hear my daughters play without the 
sound cushion of a wall.
Too tired to plan, write, read, or dream.
The folding in of a day.


A Relief, Really

I’m ok that you didn’t remember
You were preoccupied
That I reminded you
Twenty-two years had passed
The days into nights into 
more days
of passing through morning meals
Struggles to remember 
what is necessary to discuss
in the same room.
It’s where we’ve landed
Right now, we’re both planted
rain or sun
dew soaked grass
Silent Sundays
The only acknowledgment 
to it being odd is
this poem.
It’s ok that we’re
fine with it.
A relief, really.
Editor's note: "A Relief, Really" was first published during the 2021 Lexington Poetry Month.

Kelli Hansel Haywood is a spiritual explorer, writer, public speaker, mother, and space holder for the relevance within the individual human experience, residing in Mayking, Kentucky. Kelli's first full length book, Sacred Catharsis: A Personal Healing Journey Amidst the Forced Pause of Pandemic, was published in 2021 by Belle History Publishing. Her other most recently published works can be found in Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (West Virginia University Press, 2019), Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and Women Speak Vol. 5 from the Women of Appalachia Project. She has also published long-form journalism, radio journalism, fiction, and blogs. Find her on Instagram @darkmoon_kelli.