Jenn Blair

February 3, 1863

I. Pompeii

The wells went dry. But they did not suspect, even then,
walking, to prayers, to market-swimming along in
strange morning light whose quality was already
changing. I kneel down and fish out the bones carefully,
with slender tongs, before pouring gesso in the hardened ash.
Some sculpt out of the air, but I persist in believing there are
forms already present, absences which are too telling-
a chance to become intimate with curdled hands or
even the downcast eyelashes of the woman and man
and child long ago cast down. Perhaps they will have
amulets and goddesses in arm, or perhaps they will
hold nothing, except themselves, that one last possession,
all limbs pulled in as if to ask the gods for respite now
that their small bodies inhabit even tighter boundaries.
Frescoes, vases, temples, carbonized loaves of bread: important.
But enough of artifacts. I want to see a living face.

II. Dover, TN

Cumberland quiet. No boats on the water for weeks,
fishes quizzical and nothing for the poor children
playing on the banks to wave at wildly. We knew Major
General Wheeler was there, with his men, waiting to disrupt
shipping, and we did not give him that satisfaction. Today
he arrived to scare out the bait, attacking our garrison.
Fierce fighting commenced and by dusk, both sides were
out of ammunition, nothing in the air but swallows over
darkening pines, taking one last flight before close of day.
Poor Matthew was shot in the mouth and eye and there
was nothing we could do. But let his mother understand,
even in her wailing, his noble sacrifice. For the glorious
Union must hold now that it holds middle Tennessee!

III. Virginia City, Nevada Territory

Well what will sell must involve murder and death,
probably a robbery and a cave with a skull in it,
skeleton of a long ago missing judge. People want
horse thieves, diabolical, then strung up, they drool
for mayhem and intrigue and bars of silver scurried
away from the Comstock load and revolvers on
moonlit roads as a low eerie sound faintly issues
forth from an abandoned shanty. It is no trouble
for me to give it, in liberal supply, oil lamp lit here
by my desk. I will be jovial and harum-scarum in turns
but when I recount the rum-punch and the horse
opera tune I sang which was of no account, I'd rather
sign as something else-a cipher for barely navigable
humor on hissing skates over an ocean of sorrow-
my brother Henry's body sunk down in it, and no
one to pull me back from this drowning, this terrible
loss I always carry with me, waking or sleeping, so
why not sign these lies, my death writ, with a stamped
on wink, confident warning: two fathoms deep.

Jenn Blair has published work in Copper Nickel, Rattle, New South, South Carolina Review, Sugar Hill Review, and the Berkeley Poetry Review among others. Her chapbook The Sheep Stealer is out from Hyacinth Girl Press. She is from Yakima, WA.

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