Literary Orphans

Two Poems by Chelsea Bayouth


Smoke Women

_How many times did I wish for a suede cheeked Nana?

A grandmother with a house in a landlocked state

where I would summer unruly and come of age gracefully,

shaped by her wisety and love of the land?


Who’s ears would hear the secrets that my parents ears would not.

Who would tell me about brassieres

and men and peeling apples.

Who would understand my rages.


I didn’t have an apple Nana.


They were both women born of an era of smoke.

Smoke that stuck to the grain in the wood.

And in the sky of the burning valleys.

Smoke settled and green at the foot of the hills in the time before hybrids.

Smoke that came only on birthdays

and lingered briefly when the candles were out.


I always heard about the broken things.

Broken front teeth of a cheating grandfather.

The broken farm of a death too soon.

Broken china in the sea of a kitchen.

Broken vows.

Broken hips and tubes.


They were skinny and hard.

White old women of an aging white Hollywood.

Painters and writers. Always donning sunglasses,

always ice in their rum. Always lipstick. Always jewelry.

Liz Taylor and Vivienne Leigh.

Never knowing what to say to me or why.


I wanted needlepoint. And cookies.

A soft belly and a heaving bosom.

I yearned to be bossed in way I would listen.

Wanted stories of the war and how they fell in love.

To know about the time of non-essentials.

And where their parents came from.


My curiosity made me uncharacteristically shy.

Who cares about the ficus in the living room the shape of a girl?


Which is why I needlessly adjusted my training bra

by her hospital bedside one broken hip ago.


And she noticed before she died that I would be a woman soon, like her.

Which made me rage inside with pride.


I was a timeline on fire of her past and my future,

all from a comment, raised eyebrows and a tip of her head.


But before I could get there, before I could show them, they died.

Their habits eclipsing their life.


I was left dumb, a grandmotherless girl with no history,

who knew nothing of casseroles or welping boxes.


I carried on.

Feeling bitter towards Werthers commercials.


Frequently I wonder if like in the Simpsons,

their heads are lined up on puffs of clouds and looking down.

To see me cleaning paintbrushes. To see me typing this.

To see me wear lipstick and gold and turn down cigarettes.

And to watch me secretly break porcelain when I’m angry.


If there is a booze soaked cork dance floor in death, they are there.

But also, they are here. Not in the stories I heard from them

or the summer picked peaches of wisdom, but in me.


This artist. This woman.


Ambivalence. This furious body.


Growing exhaustion of expectation.

Unquenchable thirst.


A timeline smoking

on fire.

O Typekey Divider

Two Pianos In The House

One house

Two parents

Three wild, swimming children

Four family pets

Five glowing birthday candles.


One tooth lost

Two color changing cereal spoons

Three hundred trips to see grandma in the hospital

Four dog eared pages of The Growing Up Book

Five hand me down training bras.


One trip to the mall for pierced ears

Two best friends ever

Three names in hearts carved in the door of the hope chest

Four sharp things hidden near the mattress

Five pages written in the journal tonight.


One messy smoky room

Three notches on the bedpost

Four pm wake up call, Vicodin and Portishead


One trip to Paris

Chocolate, Xanax

One graduation

Lots of cards with money.


One quiet family

Whispered vacant rooms

Three fireplaces

Ghost animals all around.


Five empty fingers

Two walks around the block at Christmas with my Father

No marriage

A place where paintings used to be.


One ring

Five family members

No, six

One baby

No baby

No. Baby.

One car

One garage

One head

Two hands.

Engine humming chest.


Three meals a day

Two meals a day

One meal a day

Snacks only

No meals

No meat

No restaurants

A pantry full of cans

A freezer full of food

A rotting full, forgotten fridge.


One living house

One house with blood

One house

Our house

Our house


One family

Two families

Three families

Moving vans

Painted walls

Empty drawers.


One glittering, vulnerable smashed car window.

One childhood boxed inside.

One childhood covered in glass and leaves and rain.


One different car in Mama’s driveway.

One Daddy gone.

New furniture crammed everywhere.

No tea cups in the cabinet.

Two pianos in the house

Two Pianosin

the hOuse

TWo piANos

iN theHOUsE.



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Chelsea Bayouth is a poet and artist from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. 
While getting her BA at CalArts she was heavily involved in creative writing and was mentored by the likes of Douglas Kearney, Maggie Nelson and Anthony McCann. She has performed at Beyond Baroque, The Last Bookstore, The Levitt Pavillion, Poetry Solves Problems, and living rooms across LA. In February 2014 she published her first book of poetry, Beaus & Eros.

Chelsea first began writing at the age of eight when a blank book was given to her at Christmas. Hence, her childhood was spent in her tree house composing prose about bugs and animals. She is inspired by monsters and aliens and she owns a lot of wind chimes. When she isn’t writing, she is creating terrifying animal masks that she is running out of room for. Her poetry now, captures her unique experience of womanhood as a human animal. She is waiting for the mother ship, she is falling in love, she is taking the potion. And she is currently making progress on her first novel.


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–Art by Charles Simms