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My Great-grandmother was the first woman in Nebraska
to file for divorce—it wasn’t granted.
No one will ever believe her. The wood stove
hummed with fire when she tied her apron on,
set the herbs out on the table, and spoon-
tested the lard in the bowl. The bruises
still fresh under her buttons, the just-washed
linen, yellow stained with her sweat. Hard work
and long hours frayed her edges, unraveled
seams. The tea kettle whistled, jerked her out
of reverie, words caught like bones in her throat—
like the day before, when the judge handed
the papers back, told her to go home, and
be a good wife. “Asking the court for your own
farm and freedom? No. Unreasonable. Hysterical.”
Yet, her scars and damaged skin, her one eye
punched crossed, her pupil blown, told the brutal
story. Many a “good man” present looked
away. And no, they still insisted, was
a mix of one part lie, one part salt water—
the rest of her? Pig fat. She set up hard
and sour, scrubbing for hours at wound and pine.
Later, her husband said she spilled the lye
while moving it hot off the stove.
That he found her. Her face burned.
Her skin bubbled, disfigured. Her leg broken.
He told me, she was sorry for filing the papers.
She was so very, very sorry.