Rosemary Kennedy was the eldest sister of President John F. Kennedy. As she entered her early twenties, behavioral issues she’d exhibited throughout her youth became more and more extreme, and her family opted to administer a lobotomy, in the hopes of stabilizing her behavior, and avoiding further embarrassment. The procedure incapacitated Rosemary, and she spent the rest of her life out of the public eye, in an institution in Wisconsin.


1. Muslin

As gauze in surgery, as green screen in videography,

            as used to pack wounds, as used to filter bits of bee bodies and slivers of petals from raw beeswax.

                        A new mother, bristling with sweat late into the afternoon, might hesitate to swaddle her autumn baby. Undress her and swaddle her in muslin—like this. The fabric will breathe and the baby will sigh into the pressure.

As a photographic filter: the young woman holds a square of fabric a foot from her face: what we would call soft white or diluted or washed out (Does she look washed-out to you? How does she look to you?): her eyelashes disappear; her hair smudged around a gesture of face.

Newborns recognize their mothers’ faces insofar as they see two dark holes. Her eyes.


2. These Ladies

A pair of black cigarette pants that, when approaching a degree of snugness around the thighs, signal that the fat has come on. One might say it like this, “Mother will be angry. Mother will say, Well. How does she look to you? And I know this is what she will be and what she will say because These Ladies have been getting tight. And tight is how These Ladies will look to Mother.”


3. Soul Surgery

Walter Freeman learned how to perform a transorbital lobotomy by using an icepick on a grapefruit.

Transorbital: through an orb; across the eye; slender chisel into the muscles of the fruit.

Before transorbital lobotomies, the simpler kind: the doctor bored holes near the temple, inserted the slender leucotome, its tiny looped end scooping away at the brain tissue.


4. St. Collette of Corbie

The father of a new baby daughter, thinking of nothing but the salvation of her soul, runs with his daughter in his arms to the parish priest,

but the baby was already dead. The priest turned his back on the silent bundle, sent the father to the nuns. One sends trouble to the nuns, thanks be to God.

And Mother Collette took the bundle and bound it with her habit. Return to the Father, she said.

And so, under these same stars, under Rosemary’s stars, under Joseph’s, under all fathers’ and their daughters’, under these flecks of light and the howls of wolves, the parish priest released the baby from its clothes and it cried and cried.

Now you are fit to be baptized, he said. And he did.


5. Family Institution

“You would ask if it is true that her father was afraid of his daughter’s burgeoning sexuality and I would say absolutely not, it was that she would say Yes to some things and No Thank You to others and they would be all the wrong things in all the wrong way

You would accuse her father of turning his back, sending her away (what a mess, what tears, what screaming), and you would be incorrect, he faced her and pressed her against him, her car waiting, her new bed with its pressed linens, her cottage ringed with daffodils in the angry air of March, Wisconsin nuns and their large faces waiting, she asked and he delivered, and then she could be quiet, so quiet was her father’s house then, so empty and smooth was his heart as if a steady hand had reached in and evened out the ragged edges with its fingertips.”





Kate Rosenberg teaches English at Penn State University and has had poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published here and there, but not yet everywhere. She lives with her daughter and husband and their imaginary dog named Yadi.