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Alan Humm: a poem

Léa and Christine Papin were two French sisters who, when they were working as live-in maids, were convicted of murdering their employer's wife and daughter in Le Mans, France on 2nd February, 1933. The murder had a significant influence on French intellectuals, many of whom attempted to analyse it in terms of the class struggle. The sisters, who may or may not have been in an incestuous relationship, claimed that it had been in self-defence.

Léa Papin

I am deaf and dumb.

To you, I mean.

What am I meant to say?

That dust abrading her white glove

felt like her hand around our throat;

red such an encouragement

that, in the end, I hammered

just to watch it brighten the walls.

Consider the genitals: annulled.

Don't ask me what that means.

Sometimes, my sister and I

would… how can I say?


Do you understand?

It wasn't physical.

That, finger and thumb,

was the least of it.

It was there in the way

she taught me how to clean

each object

like it knew it needed me;

the way I saw her tear an eye

out of its socket

and, yes, immediately,

did the same.

There: proof.

A mother's love is nothing

to this blaze of …bliss?


As for marriage,

good luck to you.

The truth's in what you learn

that you can do.

The way the two of you

become one monster;

lie there, sleepy and satisfied,

after it's done,

waiting for the world

to ratify your love.

Alan Humm is the editor of One Hand Clapping. His first novel, The Sparkler, will be published by Vine Leaves Press in 2024 and his first collection of poetry, A Brief and Biased History of Love, will be published soon.

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