Francis Glessner Lee

By Faith Shearin

She loved miniatures: made tiny replicas of rooms
that captured her imagination, recreated
the stiff chairs, the oil paintings of angels,
a pair of wire-rimmed glasses on a bedside table.

Frances spent her childhood reading Sherlock Holmes,
thinking about details, and later, after her marriage
collapsed, began making dioramas
of crime scenes: the angle of an opened door,

the way a body fell beside an ironing board,
while a nearby window came unlatched. She placed
ceramic figures on the mantle, hung coats
in closets, painted faint footprints on the floor.

Her family wouldn't allow her to study forensic pathology
then, one after another, they died, leaving
her a fortune. She funded Harvard's first homicide school,
lobbied to have coroners replaced by medical professionals,

hosted a conference where detectives looked into
her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths. I like
to think she recreated scenes from her own life too,
investigating personal crimes. Perhaps, in her attic,

she kept the miniature living room, with a polished mahogany
coffee table, where her father told her A lady doesn't go
to school. Or the dinner table where she cut her steak
while her husband criticized her understanding of the law.

Frances shrank the scenes so she could look into
them, and accuracy was important to her work.
In her rooms calendars are turned to the right month
and year, rolling pins sit in flour, mouse traps

are poised to catch eyelash-sized mice. She recreated
the exact pallor and bloat of a rotting body, the splatter of blood
above a baby's crib. Is it any surprise that the victims
she considered were usually women, killed

in their own homes? She carved soap and shampoo
for the bathtub, stocked the kitchen pantry
with cereals, arranged soup cans,
opened an oven to reveal a pie.
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About Faith Shearin

Faith Shearin is the author of five books of poetry: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), The Empty House, Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees , and Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Poetry Prize). Recent work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and Poetry East and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work also appears in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poets and in American Life in Poetry. She lives with her husband, her daughter, and a small, opinionated dachshund in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia.

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