string bag


I have no pattern to follow.
My fumbling fingers tie the knots
of fat and scratchy plastic string
with a crochet hook, too small, too small for such a task.
No warm and chuckling grandma guides my hand
over these loops and locks.

A wet handful of chopped chicken pieces—
this seeping heart
still beats,
slipping and shifting
in its ugly cage
all braced in place
by my tight-buttoned blouse.

Don’t ask me how I am
Don’t look beyond my smiling teeth—
these buttons will give out—
my ribs give way—
and you’ll see it
hiding underneath:
my chopped-chicken heart—
a-thump; a-thump-ing;
strung together: oozing, raw
somehow still pumping.

Later, they say—
sometime past this winter grey,
on a clichéd blue-skied day—
this heart will just be my heart:
an organ.
My busy hands
will put down this string,
these cloths,
this hook,
this suffering—
loosen these buttons—
fall calm to my lap.

My breath
will flow back.

But now,
I poke and tuck
these falling, slipping, bloody bits
back and back inside.
I loop and lock and knit and knot
mop the sad and seeping sop;
re-button, re-lace, repair, replace. 

I rise, rigid:
straight and strong
to meet my days
eyes down

Don’t ask me how I am.


© Trisha Helbers. First published in Relay by Marion Writers Inc available from

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem