from the letters of Mary Shelley

Dear Mother,

I did not write to you so long

because you were angry in my dream.

I crossed the sea with the sick

below. The inner ear

made a separate sea. All three

of us read your book: That’s how

I learn your voice and tie it to me.

Jane does too – I share my dead

with her though I am loathe to.

I wonder will this birth bring

dirty doctor hands

as I brought them to you.

Then what trail for her little feet?

Lamb hooves, rough pads. What crumbs?

We tried to find your France

but we met dead fields and hunger.

The backward-looking need no enemies

and every world is provincial once you’re in it.

Your pregnant daughter,

Mary Shelley

*Mary Shelley fell in love with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who visited the Godwin household as an admirer of Godwin’s radical ideas. Godwin did not approve of the relationship as Percy was already married. In fact, Percy’s wife Harriet was pregnant with her second child when Percy and Mary fell in love. Mary and Percy ran away together and sailed to France. Her step-sister Jane came too and remained with them for nearly the entirety of their relationship. The couple chose France because Mary’s mother had lived there during the revolution and they idealized it as a place of radical thought and freedom. While they traveled they read aloud from Wollstonecraft’s travel memoir Letters Written from a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Mary was pregnant at the time.


Jessica Cuello is the author of Hunt (The Word Works, 2017) and Pricking (Tiger Bark Press, 2016). She has been awarded The 2017 CNY Book Award, The 2016 Washington Prize, The New Letters Poetry Prize, a Saltonstall Fellowship, and most recently, The New Ohio Review Poetry Prize. Her newest poems can be found in Copper Nickel, Cave Wall, Bat City Review, Pleiades, and Salamander.