By Ellene Glenn Moore


In summer I count the scratches on my arms. Seventeen. Twenty-four. Nine. I don’t know where they come from, then or now. Perhaps my bike, or the leprous bark of the hickory at the corner of Pitman and Coffin. Once, as I stand on the pedals, my bike skids out from under me and shoots across a slick of sand scattered over the asphalt. From my back, I cannot tell if I am lying still or running headlong into the sky.


Run from the slope, I am stopped by a tree. This is how one of the Kennedys died, my mother reminds us all, and she asks my father why he wasn’t with me. The doctor pulls a silly face when he puts his hand in my puffy snow pants. He wants to make me laugh while he feels the bones for a break, but he has his hand in my pants, which is not at all funny, only necessary, which, at five, I believe I understand. But I know there is nothing wrong with me. No breaks, just blood under the skin, a continent rising in my hip.


This is what my mother says: after she broke the news of her third child, me, to her parents-in-law, my grandma—small grandma, biscuit grandma, lying on the couch grandma, pleated pants up to her waist grandma, clipping strangers’ obituaries to send to my mother after the wedding grandma—asked my mother if she had considered an abortion. This is a strange thing for a mother to tell her daughter. I am talking about myself. I wonder about the context. But I know what happened next. For years my grandmother called me “sweet little angel girl,” and I tore down all of the laundry in the yard and bled when my brother threw a new book at my eye the summer I turned eight.


Home from college, now the lid of the toilet is broken, porcelain so sharp that though my knuckle barely brushes its fine edge as I reach for the hand towel, a clean split appears, as clean as parted legs at first, and then a sudden welling up. I hardly feel a thing, but light-headed in the kitchen I say, “Something happened,” and my brother pulls my hand under cold water, fills the split with dish soap, cleans my blood from the sink.


He does not listen when my mother says she is flying across the country, away from our home, because she needs this and my father must stay and watch us kids while she falls apart. He cannot stay and so for the first time he coaxes his parents up from Alabama. Grandma’s blood pools in her feet on the plane, and they stay in this house while he is in Egypt or Russia with someone we haven’t met yet, and when my mother hears what he has done, latest in this long list of cuts, she loses another seven pounds, and the three of us wait at the kitchen table, knives to our throats as we try to arrange ourselves, but what did she expect? What did she expect?


Cutting onions for my mother’s smothered chicken I slice the pad of my finger, the longest one. She wraps it in paper towel, takes a call on the landline, shutting its curlicue wire in the backdoor when she leaves to sit on the stoop. This is like when she and my father talked on that stoop, only now he is a phone. Or, he is a lawyer on a phone. No, he is a wire shut in a door. Inspired, I take a red marker to the paper towel, as though I have bled through, hold it to the window and watch my mother’s jaw drop. “I’ll call you back” is, maybe, what my mother says.


What did I expect, rummaging through that desk in Florence, Alabama, photograph of my college father, that stone building behind him like a bloodless face? I have to draw the line somewhere, maybe cut back on things my mother says. In another story I am not born in summer, my mother does not run up his phone bill or put a doubtful hand on her hip when my father suggests they share a home to save money. That is how blood works: it chooses convenience, it sinks its own ships. I see I have his jaw, that blank college stare. “Blood will out,” I yell at my hands. Baffled, they do not listen.

From How Blood Works by Ellene Glenn Moore (Kent State University Press, 2021). Reprinted with permission from the author.

Guiding questions

  • Read the following guiding questions and consider them as you read the poem:
    • What emotions is the speaker conveying in the poem? Can you connect to the speaker and/or her experience? How so? Why might analyzing a poem in this way be helpful for you as a healthcare provider?
    • What does the poem communicate about people and relationships? How might understanding these people and relationships impact the ways you relate to or engage with people/patients?
    • What is the role of blood in the poem? What does it represent and/or contribute to the speaker’s story?

About The Author

Ellene Glenn Moore is an American writer living in Zürich. She is the author of How Blood Works (Kent State University Press, 2021), winner of the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, and Passage: An Essay (Orison Press, forthcoming), winner of the Orison Chapbook Prize. Ellene’s lyric nonfiction, poetry, and critical work has appeared in West BranchHayden’s Ferry ReviewBrevityBest New PoetsPoetry NorthwestPoet Lore, and elsewhere. Find her at elleneglennmoore.com.