POETRY Something Meaningful When you are lonely, it doesn’t have to be for something. The baby, who in her mother’s lap understands nothing but breast, fleece, suckledoesn’t know what she’s missing, except she’s sure it’s the very best part. Child, listen when I tell you there is more to life than this, but not much more, and don’t ask what it is, I hardly know. And if it’s not that, it’s something else. Window-glass in winter, maybe, occlusive and cold to the touch. Just when you’re sure there is nothing on the other side, you begin the capital traces of the letters which spell your name, or the infernal arcs of a face so happy it burns. The eyes imply a bird pecking at ice in the grass, the upturned mouth, the crumbling-barked trunk of a tree your mother planted thirty years before. She said it was a chilly fall, and Father was away, again. Such frost undermines what else? If you make love to a man you hardly know do you want to know more? What else is there? He sleeps with a pillow between his knees and the hairs at the crest of his thigh, such sparse threads of silk. Delicious. Wet. Is it from such features of absence or lack that we incubate our very best dreams? Once, I was seventeen and asleep when the stairs I had been climbing added upon themselves. I had been looking for an even keel, a place to fly kites, somewhere to sit and plait my hair. That night I climbed straight into the sun. The Foreign Language Emergency Phrasebook Sometimes it’s best to just run like hell HelloI have been seriously wounded. I am bleeding profusely. May I use your belt as a tourniquet? May I borrow a towel to wipe up this blood? Take me to a clean hospital, now. Why is this water black? What kind of meat is this? Is it safe to eat? I am very sorry, I did not mean to offend. Please do not injure me. Please do not make me angry. Yes, I have my papers. How fast can this car go? Do you know a place where I can hide? How far is it to the border? You will never make me talk. Jill Alexander Essbaum Jill Alexander Essbaum lives and works in Austin. Her first book, Heaven, won the 1999 Bakeless Prize in Poetry. A current NEA fellow, she’s just finished her second collection, and is near completion on a third manuscript, a yet-untitled gathering of Italian sonnets. Naomi Shihab Nye 1/4/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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