Elizabeth Oxley

Mitochondrial Eve

My first husband turned my name over
like a stone in his mouth, saying, You don’t 
even try anymore—meaning, to look pretty—
my body wracked with chronic pain, 

fatigued from rocking our colicky daughter 
up and down the apartment hallway. 
Later, reading about the single African 
woman from whom all living humans 

descend, I think, Why not Priscilla or Astrid? 
Something tender, like Violet? But no—
scientists call her Mitochondrial Eve, 
a name synonymous with her function, 

like Ratchet, or Saw, or Woman—how some men say it 
when demanding their hungers be met: 
Come here, Woman. I left my husband. 
On winter days when the sun clocks out early, 

his voice still rises in my ear—you don’t even try anymore—
scornful, perplexed, as if he cannot fathom 
how female hands could stop fluttering 
after 200,000 years of service—there, 

behind our living room’s vertical blinds, 
near the asphalt clover-loop of Highway 395
and fry-scent of Five Guys hamburgers.
In the digital rendering of the African woman, 

I doubt he’d notice her distant gaze or picture her 
crouched by the fire, beneath stubborn rock
from which she’s carved a home. How sweat 
glistens in her close-cropped hair, how fingers

of weedy children clutch her limbs. How the dead 
gazelle slumps blank-eyed at her feet, tossed there 
by a husband who asks, Where’s my supper? Mitochondrial Eve, 
quit crying and put on some mascara.