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Blood Box

Publication Date: October 2019


Blood Box, the deliciously haunting debut short collection from poet Zefyr Lisowski, takes us inside the infamous 1892 axe murders of Abby and Andrew Borden through twenty-six wide-ranging, stylistically experimental persona poems. Lisowski re-introduces us to mythologized spinster Lizzie Borden as we’ve never seen her before: a girl wielding an axe, yes, but also a girl trapped-in the boxes of age, of hunger, of loneliness, of blame. Lizzie, who was acquitted of the double murder of her father and stepmother, yet continues to haunt our cultural psyche over a hundred years later. Even now, “Violence dances with us like ghosts.”

In these pages, the notorious crime and its cast of characters serve as a jumping-off point for a textured exploration of inherited violence, queer intimacy, and the way family can be “another geometry, another violence too.” Blood Box is Lizzie’s story, but it’s also the story of grief, of selfhood, of trans and queer becoming. Lisowski’s Lizzie Borden is as sweet, sad, spooky, and haunted as a girl with an axe ever can be.

August 1, 1892

Is all this grief repetitive to you?

I see my stepmother and look at a straw creature.

I see my uncle, fresh from the long expanse

of Iowa,

and there are only shadows, heaps of luggage.

I’m spending more and more time in the barn-

its stifle, scratch and warp of floor. From there,

I can see the plyboard of our home, plump droop of

pear tree. Violence dances with us like ghosts. Uncle John’s

voice booming over our evening meal. This family

filthens me. When trying to escape, I close

my eyes and think of Massachusetts’ rocky

coast-which I’ve only seen once, its seaboard

a slate as silver-grey as my father’s dry eyes. Its shore

salty as the coat he hangs up grimed

by the completion of each day’s errands.

This is our intimacy, the bond we keep:

I always pass by before he climbs the back stairs.

I am careful to avoid eye contact.

He is careful to keep the door locked afterward.


If it is possible to queer a murder, Lisowski does it here, wearing the persona mask of Lizzie Borden, the familiar familicidal subject of too many jokes and skipping rhymes. Swinging non-chronologically from branch to blood-stained branch through the convoluted and uncertain history of the Borden murders, Lisowski discovers a kind of friend in Lizzie. These poems, sometimes quiet and demure, sometimes sung confession, sometimes full of hot desire. Each poem a pear, uniquely flavored, hanging barely from a tree in the balmy wet air of a New England summer. Inventive, sexy, self-aware to an almost dangerous degree, Lisowski applies layer after layer of powder foundation, demanding: “Look at me: I wear / my suffering on my skin. I wear my skin / on top of my other skin.”

-Chase Berggrun, author of R E D

Zefyr Lisowski’s BLOOD BOX is as much ouroboros as box, employing a circular structure to revisit the famous Fall River murders from alternating perspectives. Bookended by Lizzie Borden’s voice, the collection shimmers with uncanniness as Lisowski channels the dead. The result is an exquisitely constructed danse macabre that shifts between reportage and invention, avowal and disavowal—an assembly of voices tethered together by a grisly loss. Moving us between the ghastliness of a father who “twisted the heads off pigeons” to the radiant beauty of a “pear tree’s bright plumage,” BLOOD BOX is disturbing, dazzling, and riveting.

—Simone Muench, author of WOLF CENTOS, ORANGE CRUSH, and with Dean Rader, SUTURE

Zefyr Lisowski’s BLOOD BOX fearlessly excavates the secret and multiple lives (longings and regrets) of Lizzie Borden and her family. Mysterious and evocative, terrifying and tender, this is a powerful voice singing praise and elegy within the same breath, pressing against the world’s constraints to dream flight.

—Ching-In Chen, Lammy-award-winning author of recombinant

Dealing in secrets, Zefyr Lisowski’s BLOOD BOX stands at the threshold of a violent domestic silence. Unknowability generates a hybrid text of multiple methodologies, all of which circle around its empty center. Lisowski writes, “The God I know / lives behind a locked door, and only hoards / His good things. If He has children, / He beats them without fail. If He has neighbors, / He chops apart their houses. Tell me, / who wouldn’t believe.” The fear that characterizes coloniality haunts the Borden family, trapping them in a labyrinthian coffin, where death generates death in a way that is neither spectacular nor foreign. The brilliance of this text lies in its guilty blood, housed in grayscape littered with the familial.

—Raquel Salas Rivera, author of x/ex/exis, lo terciario/the tertiary, and while they sleep (under the bed is another country)

About the Author

© NM Esc

Zefyr Lisowski

Zefyr Lisowski also goes by Zef and is a queer poet, artist, and Southern transplant currently based in New York. She's a poetry co-editor for Apogee Journal, an instructor at Hunter College, and is also author of the microchapbook Wolf Inventory (Ghost City Press, 2018). Zef's received support from the Tin House Summer Workshop, the New York Live Arts Fest, and Sundress Academy for the Arts, among other places; her work has appeared in Muzzle Magazine, DIAGRAM, Entropy, The Texas Review, and elsewhere. Zef's a 2018 Pushcart nominee; her chapbook Blood Box is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.

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