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WHAT I'M READING :: Lizzie, Speak by Kailey Tedesco

trista edwards

[CW—Sexual Abuse]

This book is an instrument. It exists as a spirit board through which the dead speak. It feels dangerous. Not because communing with the dead is dangerous but because of what the dead may have to say, and Kailey Tedesco is the medium through which the subject, Lizzie, speaks. 

 Lizzie, Speak is a jolting collection of poems. It is a candle in the dark attempting to shed some light on a mystery—the mystery of Lizzie Borden, a young woman who was the main suspect in the 1892 ax murders of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts. 

[You don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the story of Lizzie Borden to read these poems, they are eerie and complete all on their own, but if you aren’t familiar with Borden and you want to be here’s a quick run-down of her life & murder trial.] 

Full disclosure—I am not only a Lizzie enthusiast, having traveled to and spent the night in the Borden home (now a Bed & Breakfast) in Fall River (which I wrote about HERE) but a colleague of Kailey—we both write for Luna Luna Magazine, a digital coven of literature, magical living, identity, and idea and are soon-to-be press mates—April Gloaming Press, which published her book She Used to be on a Milk Carton, will be publishing my first poetry book, Spectral Evidence, later this year. 

I was honored to receive this collection early on in electronic form when Kailey asked me to blurb the book. Our acquaintance-ship in no way colored my reading of her poems. I’d been a fan and admirer of her poetry for some time. Her talent is breathtaking. 


There were several times when reading these poems that I had to lean back and take a deep exhale because DAMN. 

 Like, let’s start with just the very first poem, the titular Lizzie, Speak—which acts as not only a summoning but a freakin’ invitation to a spiritual possession.    

 The speaker addresses the ethereal Lizzie as if giving her a present-day tour of her own home—


lizzie,             you’re home now        with the replica davenport in the parlor

portraits of andrew and abby            faces with black     holes rimming their wounds


lizzie, you own places of last breath       skulls as mantelpiece trinkets       eggs benedict


come morning            where bridget                crouched to mop vomit. 


lizzie, your parents    reduced to a carpet stain        I scavenge for you


The scene is jarring. It is simultaneously one of authentic familiarity and grim reproduction—returning home only to find a “replica davenport” in place of the original, last breaths instead of life, parents reduced portraits and the ghastly evidence of their murder, the horrific “carpet stain.”

 The speaker notes that she has felt the pull of Lizzie much like Homer’s sirens calling from the rocks—


lizzie, you found me        i felt you pull my ankles        drag me from bed

your voice        a fungal infection        bursting through rug        what is left to say

Did she do it? Did she murder her parents? Or was she a victim of abuse (as some theories suggest she was sexually abused by her father and was driven to murder in defense and anger), silenced and villainized over time? She was acquitted of the murders but no one else was ever charged they remained unsolved. After the trail, she stayed in Fall River until she died in 1927 at the age of 66. However, many in the town believed her to be guilty of the crime and she spent the rest of her days as a pariah. 

 There are several theories as to what exactly happened—one being the sexual abuse as mentioned above, some scholars claim that Lizzie and the Borden’s live-in-maid, Bridget Sullivan, where engaged in a sexual affair and Abby, Lizzie’s step-mother found out and Lizzie murder both her and her father in an assumed rage when the relationship was uncovered. 

 Others speculate that instances of familial betrayals in the form of inheritance and other financial claims lead to violence. Some call for petty jealousies between Lizzie and her step-mother that fueled Lizzie to kill her parents in a fugue state. Some think Bridget committed the murders in retaliation at being asked to clean the windows on a, particularly hot day.

 The truth of the murders has never been uncovered. 

This collection provides a mouthpiece for this complex narrative as in the final lines of the introductory poem the speaker gives herself over to be inhabited, the aforementioned spiritual possession—


lizzie, fit your eyes    into my sockets    

                come, speak            what you have done 


The remainder of the collection acts as a séance through which we experience possibilities of truth that sometimes seems to come from the voice of Lizzie and sometimes from the speaker-poet who takes authority over the textual planchette to flirt with the veil and ask, “Lizzie, what have we done?” 

But the answers don’t matter, it is only the act of speaking that carries significance here. 

And anyway, as the speaker touts in Lizzie New Age / Lizzie New Wave, “your mind is already made up.”