The Woman in the Wall
by Lynne Knight

Cover Image - Soap Hand


When I first saw your hand coming at me
through the wall
I shuddered with revulsion

Then I stood with my own hands wet
thinking It’s only porcelain
Maybe he wanted to add a touch

of elegance or camp
though when I finally got around to asking him
if the hand had come with the house

he laughed and said Oh
that was her idea of a joke
Some joke

Lately at night I have taken to laying the soap
carefully on the sink ledge
to free you

When I close the door behind me I hear
a slight brushing, someone
wiping her hand on the hem of her dress

Or is it that you pull the hand through
slowly so as not to scrape the skin
In the morning I go in with my running clothes

I don’t turn on the light
in case you haven’t yet pushed your hand 
back for the day, 

the one duty exacted
I’m afraid of what I’ll feel
if I see the hole empty of everything

but the way in to you,
afraid I’ll lose my grip on the edge
of where you begin    he ends      I fit in


You were everywhere: in the way
the shelves were arranged, in the mirror 
on the closet door, the curtained windows

I’ve always hated curtains, laden with dust 
like gowns that won’t be worn again,
hanging forlorn day after day

Still, I wish I hadn’t torn them down
that morning I decided more light
might change my fate

If they were still here
I’d have some sign each time you came near
A fluttering as if a window

had just been opened or shut 
Meanwhile you hold still, anticipating
my next move

That eerie quiet of a pond 
after a stone’s thrown in and the water stops 


Who do you think you are
that you can hurt the nights like this,
bruise them until they swell around us

I saw how you planted those Siberian irises					
where I have to walk past them every morning
while they slide their purples into my eyes

I saw how you left your broken costume jewelry
in the pewter box above the stove
Stoneless rings, a drop earring like a magnified tear

I saw whiteness unhinging day after day
like a door too wide to find the end of
Then there you were

bent over him this morning
just as I was about to—
But my mouth’s quicker

evening prayer

This is my body
All the advice columns say I should love it
I do love that it carries me over the earth,

that it can climb steepnesses
not even flowers cling to,
that it can move through water

But I do not love its betrayals
The bones, half brittle
The barely-there breasts

You, on the other hand where I can see you
only with the back of my eyes,
you are a fluent rising

as if a filmy dress lifted from its hanger in the night,
zipped and hooked itself, smoothed its long skirt
to begin the dance

Dance with me
Teach my body to be without grief, 
traveling the walls as you do each night 
Let me wear your whiteness
that I catch glimpses of in the light
from passing cars, in moonlight

Prepare me for the ascension not of the spirit
but the body I can learn to trail behind me
like a scarf, beautiful, barely needed

sleepless travel

Last night while he slept I heard you
downstairs, rummaging through the plaster
for clues to your prior existence

Hairpins, thread, the torn edge
of the dress you’d married him in
Even when you sleep you’re at it

Raking the dust with your fingers
Sifting the dust with your tongue—
hiss flung like salt over your left shoulder

I’ll bet you bossed your dolls around too
Shoved them under the bed,
flakes of bone in your laughter

Sometimes when I look at my hand
the blood drains to whiteness of porcelain
I notice my veins unstitching

like threads from a wound
If you try to appropriate them, they’ll break 
into bits like the rice you picked 

from his beard on your wedding night
You won’t be able to breathe
for wondering who’s who

by heart

One year you learned the name of every flower
Every shrub, every ground cover, every tree
Then you learned them all again in Latin in no time at all

He likes women with good memories
Night after night we sat at the glass table
looking back to his life with you

Soon darkness would press up
until it pressed against the glass
like black at the back of a mirror

I would put my hands on it and scratch
the way you scratch inside the wall sometimes,
quick sound like a name being crossed out 

over and over until it’s clear some things
are pressed so closely to the heart
the least contact drives them deeper


Eight days you have stayed so near
I can feel you breathing through me
Now the rain interferes

Think of rain as fission of the air
That’s how far I can go into hearing 
when you’re near

The air itself in fission
Breaking into words no matter where I turn
Breaking into fears

This is how madness feels, then
Every solidity gone, every silence
Yesterday they caught the man who’s been burning

the hillsides since early June
Voices told him to do it
When the grass rose higher

with flame, the pain in his back subsided
He was terrified someone would die
He chose full day, roadsides

I haven’t dreamed of killing anyone
for years though when I see you there
I tremble as if I’ve done something irremediable

Broken off a finger, a tooth, lost all my hair
That’s when I see the two of us 
crouched at the lip of a dune, 

two crones digging holes in the sand
until nothing’s visible but two bald heads 
in the moonlight, two veined eggs biding their time

dawn transfer

Some days I don’t hear you at all
I think maybe you’re ill, maybe you’re gone
though I still hear disturbances

in the predawn dark, your small pulse
beating like a signal for the birds to start
their clamoring as soon as he’s fallen

into that sleep you can’t touch otherwise
No doubt I’d do the same if I were you				
Get up every morning and think of all I’d lost

Lift the water to my face and decide 
this would be the day I’d keep so still 
she’d feel herself wrapped 

in water, she’d cry out like someone drowning
And when he said What is it
and she said I don’t know, a dream

I’d feel the smile begin in my throat
and move out from me in rings as if someone 
had lost something irretrievable in me

even in death we remain sexual

You are the same woman I saw when I was ten
in the ruined mansion on Storm King,
its stone in heaps like her skirts

as she sat moaning, or letting the wind
moan through her, her face turning 
in on itself like a leaf    

with its mesh of veins, its brown stains
Oh, but she had been beautiful
I could tell from the way her fingers

stroked her breasts, scarred like old marble
I wasn’t afraid, the others had run
on ahead but I stayed among the stones

with her while the light poured dust
through the weeds and her long torn dress
I knew something more was altering, my life

would shift if I walked closer
I was too young to know which century
she had come from but saw from the stones
in her rings—three to a hand, I remember—
that planets I hadn’t dreamed of spun
like words in their origins, taking on

new curves, new meaning as her fingers
stroked and stroked and I stood in wonder
at the world opening within me


Winter, and your hand is cold
I’ve thought of fitting a glove over it
Doveskin, cotton, white or ecru

But he’s beginning to wonder about me
All this talk of your hand and of you
in the wall has him staring past me as he would a sidewalk crazy

But of course what he’s staring at is the wall
I have to grip the edge
of the glass table not to look too at the rustling that is you

hitching your dress up your thighs
like a practiced whore
I love it when you abandon decorum like this

Maybe I should wrap your hand in black net stockings
like the ones I used to wear I’ve always been a sucker for good legs
but not in those things he told me

He loved me then
He loved me first
One night you told him I’d never loved him

I wanted to go for your throat when I heard that
Your sweet white throat fluttering out
an answer for everything

Instead I listened to his fingers
on the table glass, rustle of dry tongues		
Now I hear that other rustling, the one where you 

play with the button at your breasts
Go ahead, try and seduce him again
In the end we’re all making love to ghosts

Who we’ve been
Who we wish we’d become
Who we are as we lie there cooling like stone


Lynne Knight is the author of six full-length poetry collections and six chapbooks. Her awards and honors include publication in Best American Poetry, a PSA Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, a RATTLE Poetry Prize, and an NEA grant. She lives on Vancouver Island.

Lynne Knight also has two Mudlark chaps, The Argument Against Eternity and The Bone Woman, published in 2018 and 2017 respectively. Her website can be found at:

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