Stone Telling

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Teratoma Lullaby

by Lisa M. Bradley


Our family has a history
of giving up.

"The" family, perhaps I should say, for
I've given them up too
estranged these many years.

My twin intends to break tradition.
The looser their fingers splay
willing us to slip through,
the harder he grips
gritting baby teeth against
their easy resignation.

He still counts them family;
I was always better at math.
He remembers names best
all the names, best forgotten.


a congenital tumor consisting of
different types of tissue
(hair, skin, muscle, bone—
none native to the area in which it grows)
and evolving, very rarely, more complex organs
such as eyes.
from the Greek, teras: unusual, monster +
oma: condition
see also chimera


My mother gave me up.

First-born, I lived with Father
scrubbed antifreeze and motor oil
from his overalls
baked mac n cheese until
I sophisticated his palate
arranged our movie date each week
so he'd get the jokes told at work
and not grow old too soon.

Mom said men were different:
even the good ones needed
a woman to keep them
from going to seed.
So I became Dad's little wife.

Don't assume
he never touched me
that way
(how I prayed he'd touch me
that way
puncture the potentiality
corrupt our careful equilibrium).

My twin was smaller then
more concentrated perhaps.
He spoke seldom and only in cliché
but still I heard him loud as daylight
the light ever present between Dad's body
and mine:
Be careful what you wish for, he said.
"You don't like it, don't watch," I said.

But despite a wobbly moral axis
we remained confined:
Dad in his orbit,
my twin and I in mine.


Binary star:
a system composed of two stars
orbiting a common center of mass;
when close enough
the bodies may exchange mass
and thus evolve to stages
a single star
could never attain.


Sometimes at night
I listen to my twin not sleep
his stubborn whispers rasping 'round my brain
until, mad for rest, I hold my hands over
his open eyes (his blinks tickle
from the inside).
Then he retaliates, presses
one of five spinal nerve roots
(I never remember the name;
he's the one with the names)
seizing my sciatic nerve until I relent.

Leg tingling back to life
I endure each homesick syllable
hissed across my neck
the lullaby our mother sang:
Este niña linda
Se quiere dormir
Y el pícaro sueño
No quiere venir…

My twin's insistence twists
through my veins
calibrating the thickness
of my skin.
No angel ever weighed
so heavy on my shoulder
as the one trying
to push his way out.


Once there was a poor miller [barber] who, to impress the king [pay his rent], bragged that his daughter could turn straw into gold [offered up his daughter's services (no, not like that)]. For the miller's [barber's] wife had died in childbirth [drunk herself to death], and now his first-born mothered her siblings.

So the king locked the girl in a room [country club manor] filled with straw [his children] and said, ["Keep my children happy, clean, and fed, or your father will be trimming beards on people's porches."]

Now, the poor girl, having no magic or maternal instincts, had always whipped her siblings into submission. But clearly she could not spank the king's kids (no matter how much Prince #2 deserved it), so she sat and wept while the children ran cow-licked and crumb-faced about her, screaming and pinching and jabbing one another into a frenzy.

Then a little man [not so little] peeked into the window and offered to accomplish the girl's task, for a kiss. The girl agreed and he climbed inside and entertained the children, slipping away, wet-mouthed, before the king's return.

The king was so pleased, he demanded the girl work her magic the next day. Not daring to depend on [a man] another miracle, the girl made every effort to charm, tease, bribe beg threaten and extort the children into behaving. But alas, she had no talent for wrangling monsters and soon sat in the corner to weep.

Again the little man [not so little] appeared and offered to help, and the girl was so grateful she gave quite a bit more than kisses in return.

The king, in truly regal fashion, demanded the girl's services a third time, but this time he locked her in the house with the neighbor's terrors as well. When the not-so-little man, drawn by the gravity of the girl's angst, saw the extra children, he teased that this time, he'd need something extra-special in return.

"Like what?" the girl asked, laughing in relief. For she'd already had sex with him and, frankly, looked forward to doing so again.

"Your first-born," he whispered, pulling her into the king's quarters.

And because my mother thought he was kidding and, anyway, she never intended to have even one brat of her own (never ever, happily ever after), she agreed.

Later, when she put the royal beasts to bed, the girl asked them what the man's name was. But they did not know.

"He just works for our father," said one.

"He's the driver—" "No, the gardener," said the others.

"He's Mexican," said the first, yawning. "We just call them all Jose. Buenos nachos, Maria."


Vanishing twin:
a twin that is miscarried
(frequently by reabsorption)
without clinical signs or symptoms,
early in a pregnancy.
Often considered the cause
of teratomas.
see also absorbed twin, parasitic twin, chimera


No more than a hug-strangled doll—
its neck limp, the stuffing lumped
to head and torso
the missing button eye and the stitches
in its armpit, the black-thread pubes
festooning its finger-poked crotch…
my twin is not a monster.
We will not be separated.

I explain this to the doctor at every scan
every reference to
the nebula on my x-rays
the demon stars of calcium
radiating white-hot from the film.
My twin is more than living gristle.
He is a ghost with heft and hate
his own tastes, though perhaps arrested:
he loves bitter milk and brine;
he prefers his music to mine.
He'd be my backseat driver
if he weren't fighting me for the wheel.
I treasure his bellwethers
the way his sighs interrupt
my circulation
reminding me I'm not alone.

If only it weren't
for the pixelated vision, sign
he's trying to override my command
circumnavigate the light years
I've so carefully measured out
between our family and us.


One-third of star systems
are binary or multiple systems.
Fifteen percent of singleton births
began as twins.
The stars in a binary system are designated
primary and secondary.
Either may be a black hole.


I knew someone bewitched
enchanted, shifted—
more bear than man.
When I told him about my twin
he stroked his paw down my back
so so gently
(lest his invisible claws rip my skin)
and asked if my twin might not be
a sister.

I laughed.
I told him I come from a long line of weak women
eager to relinquish gifts
rescind promises
sacrifice under guise of survival.
Were my twin female, like me,
she would've let go long ago
withered in the womb
or, achieving a critical feminine mass
I'd have jettisoned her, let the doctor
excise her shriveled corpse like
an empty booster rocket.
Combative, my twin
keeps me whole, compels me
to hold fast to
myself: my only kin.

But later, alone in the bath, I stroked
the skin over my sibling's eyes
and asked, "Brother or sister?"
And though usually outspoken—
witness the blinding migraines when I listen
to the BeeGees, or the incontinence
when I dated a man who smelled like Dad—
my twin said nothing
pinched nothing
didn't even bat
a vestigial eye.

Maybe it doesn't matter.
Maybe it was strategic silence.
More likely, that:
anything to sabotage my resolve
anything (Rumpelstiltskin-in-reverse)
to get the family back.


We remember good times—
my twin does, anyway
tugging me from selective amnesia
with his predilection
for naming all the names.

Like when we met our half-sister
Sofia, who sees auras,
and she saw both of ours.
Bundled in Mom's arms
still crunched from the womb
she gulped, gaze darting
unsure which halo to focus on
until she achieved some syzygy
and smiled.
"She likes you," Mom said softly.
And it was, at least
half true.

Or when my best friend, Maricela
said Dad was the handsomest man
at our high-school graduation
and we near went supernova with pride.
Never mind 'wife'.
Who was the parent
who the child?
All the mornings we'd dragged him out
for laps around the track?
Sneaking antioxidants
into his smoothies
tweaking fajitas
in favor of veggies?
It had paid off.
Let the girls ogle him like
they did muscle cars
never knowing what was underneath
the hood.
Better than handsome
Dad was healthy.
I was a mechanic, too
you see
and imagined him
my well-tuned machine.

"Oh and remember that time,"
I tell my twin
"when Dad's heart stopped
and you wouldn't tell me how
to start that lemon again?
who jumpstarted yourself
from embryonic remnants
simply sat back and watched
my CPR not save him?
He was only thirty-five.
Remember that?"

It's not Pascal's Wager, he says,
as if I know who that is. Too many names
in my head and none of them fit.
You don't win by offering more counterexamples.
It's not some kind of calculus.

But if it were, I think, I'd win.

But if I won, I'd be one.


This morning I woke with
Intro to Philosophy denting
my head, the post-it note on Pascal
carding through my lashes, threatening
paper cuts.
The world bulged and my gut bottomed out.
When did we take a philosophy course?
Suspecting sleepwalking
(perhaps my twin rose as I set slept?)
I read the entry: cultivating faith
to hedge bets against
eternal damnation.
Among the many quotes?
"What a chimera then is man!
What a novelty! What a monster! What a chaos!
What a contradiction! What a prodigy!
…the glory and the shame of the universe."

What a lot of exclamation points, I grumbled
then felt my phone in the sheets.
A call to Mom, a text to Sofia,
neither remembered.
And I shivered.
Primary may become secondary…
either may be a black hole.


The doctor says I will die.
I tell him I'll die anyway.

The doctor says we must operate.
We? I'm the one who deals with operators.
My brother can't be bothered.

The doctor says the pain is just beginning.
I tell him We've waited all our lives
for this.

Let my twin steer this sinking craft
Let him carry my weight for a change
Let me condense enough to live in cliché
and warp the fabric of his space and time
Let me replace his beloved names with numbers
exchange fairy tales for formulas
lullabies for last chances
Let him reunite with Mom and Sofia (her father, Manuel;
brothers, Alejandro y Adan)
Let him solve what I cannot:

Find the square root of some celestial distance
a la rora niña
divided by semi-certain time
duérmete ya. This pretty baby
convert to parsecs
wants to sleep but
control for parallax
naughty sleep won't come
if two twins leave a train station
lullaby baby
one travelling at one and one-half…
lullaby child
and the other…
Sleep, my love
twenty-two years later…Wake me when it's over?
Sleep, my child.

Lisa M. Bradley resides in Iowa with her spouse, child, and two cats. She has poetry forthcoming in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, and In Other Words. The "someone bewitched…more bear than man" in "Teratoma Lullaby" is named Art. Art's story, "The Pearl in the Oyster and The Oyster Under Glass," can be found in the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press.

Photography: adapted from sad twins, by Victor Bezrukov.