Landscape

Through the demon and the deity,
under seventeen or seven thousand
years of circumstantial evidence-
the groans of soldiers coming as the spear
ignites their hearts, the spear itself, aghast-
beyond the morning that does not reveal
its rosy curl unfurling, the let-down
of a waited-for awake, death’s
disappointment, the finality
of a paperweight, heft and thud
of that which holds down, tight
and always-under the mourning that refutes
its very grief as if a bastard child
come to connive himself a birthright, a name
(oh luxury and the denial)-a city
calls and shall forever call The Dead-
and they arrive. They arrive, pockets
empty of breath and full of vagrancy
thresholding the white light’s obvious tunnel:
Dead fathers make the most noise. Otherwise,
it seems like rain or 1941-
a steam train grinds, trestle to track, sparks
distill the gray air (is it air at all?).
Even the climate has done itself death,
soot and pain of that which everlasts-
and it is an ocean of everlast.

Landscape 2

Here the vodka is strong and the meat is filling.
Here, the believer sings in tune but softly as a plea or a praise
and none but god can hear, or even needs to:
Jesus, Jesus you released me, you’ve tamed,
you’ve conquered my inadequate shiver of a heart.

Here my name spells desire, decree, red firm berries,
my name spells out that quiver of flesh at the meeting
of your hips and of your thighs, and flowers to burn
with praise and sympathy. The mountaintops are green and cold
and drunk on what remnants of clouds I cannot say.

Those animals that remember us do it in syllables-how perfect-
yaps and mews we now completely understand. Rub me
at the belly, feed me loyalty from the nipple of your littlest digit.
There is much to be admired here, soon enough. But oh not yet am I
to ash (I am not yet). This awaited place

will wait as a maiden for many years to come. On the unknown
but faraway day, I will arrive like chiffon lifting itself up on a breeze
and the smile of the passing sailor. I will speak of it to everyone,
I will throm and thrum and hum and grieve (a thousand griefs
relieved!) and bend at the feet of my lord who loves into such a death as this.

And yet I ask: If the child wants a snake, will you give her a fish?

Landscape, 3

There is a bridge in the distance,
and it wonders if I will cross it.

There is a bridge in the distance
awaiting my footfalls.

I say to myself these words:
I am a bride, three times over.

I am a bride in a red dress, the bloody
wife, the sacred cup of wine.

I can see only the bridge and its bearings.
What I hear is the sound of my heart,

discerning itself between beats
and gushes. Am I really dead?

Of course not. How could that happen?
How could that ever happen?

When she is born again, a woman’s name
becomes wisdom and flesh.

How can a birth be a death?
My name is Jill Essbaum-sweetheart

who has eaten from the tree. The wisest apple is one
whose pulp is firm and sweet.

Landscape 3, revisited

It is steel, not stone, the bridge of evermore.
Heavy footsteps rattle its girders, and the crossing
is tenuous like acrobatics. This I could not see
from the distance. What a novice I am, bride
of ignorance, fear, the devilish set, bloody as rain
on ash Wednesday, bloody as the matador gored,
the bull’s heft nose ring shining in the sun. My heart
makes heavy noises. Thump thump thump
like billy goats gruffing. The body of evidence
is a body. I can see only the bridge and its bearings.
What I hear is the sound of my heart,
discerning itself between beats and gushes. Am I
really dead? Of course not. How could that happen?
How could that ever happen? When she is born
again, a woman’s name becomes wisdom and flesh.
This is how the aftermath resolves.

-Jill Alexander Essbaum

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