Jesseca Cornelson – Four Poems

After an Ordination by the Temple of Isis
in the Woods of Southeast Alabama

In the dark, there were trees:    crowds of hard strangers creeping,
live oaks and new pines.    I faltered around the voice
of the new boy whose words    were thinner than ours,
not so married to the mouth.    Such quick darts
to our lumbering drawls.    I kept safe the perimeter of his tongue,
the only light    the moons in his teeth.
Air must be thick to carry    that kind of dark, wield
its weight against both eye    and body. I held a knotted
cherry stem as a charm,    wet from his mouth,
warm in my palms.    We stepped on stones
and, under stones, clay    that smelled like water, a small stream.
The path we kicked our way through,    seeing with our feet,
flowed downhill    with the memory of run-off
and broke the dark in parts    by separating the trees
enough to let lighter air fall in.    The dark swarmed,
bit like blood insects    whose bodies smacked into skin
made stains     by which we glowed:
the light of our own flesh    enough to see and burn by.



I am seven. My brother fingers the bullet hole
in the wall of Granny Cannon’s house.
Alabama Village is row after row
of mud-colored houses.

I look at the Avon bottles in the glass case.
My favorite is a green gun, and I think
it must be perfume for a man.
If I rubbed some on, I could shoot.

At the funeral, I’ll hear Granny was a madam
and think this means she wore a flower
in her hat and served tea in china cups.
I have not yet been told

my mother, like her mother, is a bastard.
In five years, when I find the papers
that made her name the same as grandpa’s,
her face will close to me like a door.

At first I’ll pray she’s not a communist
because I know if my mother is a spy
I can never go to Leslie’s birthday party,
and worse, I’ll have to tell.

It will be Father who explains the changed names,
though already I know it means something extra
when momma’s Uncle Joe writes Palmer, his last name,
on a dirty softball and sneaks it to me.

But right now, all these aunts and uncles should know
if they don’t fix the oxygen, Granny’ll need a doctor:
they can’t see how her eyes are like leaves on a creek
moving fast on a skin of water.

And I have never had anything to say.


You Don’t Have to Be Born under the Veil to Dream of the Dead

The Alabama I dream steams
with drops of hot rain twining down
through fat, velvet-dark leaves.
It is what might be called a ditch,
a gash in the flat coastal plain
scarred over with thick weeds
scrawling out in a green web.

Behind Mamaw’s red brick house,
day-pink roses turn pale blue
under the mercury-vapor light
that sizzles on at dusk and blunts
the teeming darkness of the woods.
For the child I am, there is no distance
between the body and the earth.

I play on graves with concrete faces
brushed smooth before they set.
In this dream it is that dusk,
and all day—my whole life—
I have skipped these graves, singing,
made wine goblets for my dolls
from dropped acorns picked apart.

Wrought iron patio furniture
dragged to the edge of the woods is regal,
its curling ivy coated with dew
and sharp under my pink fingers.
How come I don’t turn blue like the roses?
The dream turns a page, and I hear
a girl laughing with a voice like mine.

Her dress is faded white and grey
like the seventy-year old photographs
in Mamaw’s album. I’m Eileen,
she says, your grandmother’s dead sister.
She joins me on the concrete slab
and tosses jacks and a red ball.
For a moment we are life-long friends.

I want to stay here with Eileen
and the Alabama I left behind.
I want to touch my Mamaw’s face,
her eyes bright as she lies in bed.
Tell her this is where we live,
us dead and you together. Tell her
we’re all children when we die.


Long Gone Lonesome Blues

Where you are, the tree without leaves is a rare thing.
The night breeze comes from the Gulf, still smelling
of ocean, its wetness faintly warmer than land air
a sticky comfort, an embrace you can’t shake.

Trains will pass within a house-length
of your house three times this night,
give your floorboards a good rumble, and set
the fierce pitch of timber trembling in your walls.

Where you sleep, cool bodies of air hold water,
find other like bodies, and gather in low places,
in fields, in yards, in streets, and make grounded clouds
for drunk men to drive through to their drunk wives.

Long roads dotted by beachside bars follow
the coast and cut through towns with French
and Indian names. Wild sea oats crest on white dunes
driven by the water’s breeze to point back to the land.

The hunchbacked moon clutches its chest and drops light
like glinting teeth into the choppy waters beside two kids
who discover the grittiness of love on a blanket—the grains,
that take days to wash from ears, their only trophies.

Where you are, a bridge runs over Woodcock Creek
where four days ago two boys found—in a mayonnaise jar—
a four-and-a-half-month fetus complete with hair, limbs, a face,
and a small piece of the broken line to his lost mother.

Where you are, dogs howl all night across fences,
across yards, through scrubby pine woods, and over ditches
and streams, that lonesome call of animal heart
that, like me, does not know how to be alone, away from its kind.