Andrea Deeken

Borscht: Andrea Deeken


The morning I thought I’d be a mother
again, I made soup for two
sisters, one with a new baby
bright as a beet, the other
with an empty womb.

Both left sleeping
in twin beds, two
tired uteruses needing

the same soup I’d eaten
years before when
my own daughter was born.

Soup so red it stained the stove,
its sharp stock simmering all day—
beets, beef, viscous pork.

At thirty-nine I’m surprised to learn
I’ve reached the stage of death, watching
it in mirrored hallways,

seeing its shadow
on my father’s face. Friends
when we meet for coffee
talk only of the body, how

a mother’s morning walk turned
into terrible brain blossoms, fat
sirens spinning. A lover’s stomach
taken by tumors, thin
lips sucking lime popsicles.

It’s been a year since
I waited, a year since
I named the bundle

of cells I swore
I could see growing
into someone
I had met before.
And when

the blood did come
it was as if proof of sins
smeared on my broken
body, rendered visible
by time’s tired ink.

You still ask for a brother but
it gets fuzzier each time,
as if we are speaking underwater.

I research dogs.
I set up a fish tank
and bury them one by one
under the same front pine,

glinting tails winking out
in the black dirt, cold
faded starlight.

I still see the sisters but I don’t
make borscht anymore—
so many ways
to be a mother,
even to oneself.

When I tuck you in at night
among the mountain of stuffed
animals lovingly arranged, you say,

Tell me a story about
when you were a kid.

You want all of me
even in sleep.
But how to tell you my fear—

I’ve run out of stories,
my mind already failing
as if my body is trying

to protect me
from something
it cannot name.

Andrea Deeken was born in rural Missouri. Her writing has appeared in The Bear Deluxe, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Blue Mountain Review, and elsewhere. Awards include Honorable Mention in the 2019 Spoon River Poetry Review Editors’ Prize Contest, and second place in the 2020 Blue Mountain Review LGBTQ Chapbook Contest, among others. Her debut chapbook, Mother Kingdom, won the 2021 Slapering Hol Chapbook Contest and will be published in 2022 by Slapering Hol Press, the small press imprint of the Hudson Valley Writers Center. A former book editor, she has worked for Multnomah County Library for fifteen years. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her wife and daughter.