Mudlark Poster No. 50 (2004)

Jesse Lee Kercheval

The 3rd of July | Splinter | Xylophones
Why I Work | On The Washington Island Ferry

Jesse Lee Kercheval was born in France and raised in Florida. She is the author of the memoir SPACE. Her second poetry book, DOG ANGEL, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her poetry appears in recent issues of such magazines as Poetry London, the Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry New Zealand, Hotel Amerika, Blue Moon, the Southern Review, the Missouri Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and Volt among others. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin where she directs the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.

The 3rd of July

One child off at camp, the other fast asleep, husband at the hardware store, I sit by the open window in this, the moment between one storm and the next. Outside, rain steams from the asphalt street, the tornado siren sits atop its power pole, silent watchful yellow cone. No twister yet to make me grab the baby, blanket, bottle, diapers, run two flights to the basement and wait, crouching by the wash.

Tomorrow, there will be fireworks. A daughter, sunburned, bug bit, home with a pile of wet and muddy clothes. In the afternoon, a picnic—cupcakes stuck with sparklers. Brats, buns, beer, I have yet to buy. Today there is only this humming, this slight pause. We wait so long for these moments, then pass through them eyes on the storm bruised horizon, not even noticing. So let me remember the 3rd of July, day of no sunshine, unholiday, any day, every day.


of glass
of wood
of ice
of my heart
or in it

what tornadoes
reduce towns to

what divorces
reduce marriages to

What you are—
I take a needle
and dig you
from under my skin.


I deliver my daughter to kindermusic.
The teacher has her theories:
how the body, so young,
already knows music.

Week One: the class—
two boys, four girls—
dances with ribbons
imagining themselves notes.

Week Two: they draw music,
slash, dashes, waves, wolves
across butcher paper
unrolled on the floor.

Week Three: they clap, they stomp
making their bodies mallets,
beating the floor,
the air, their drum.

At the end of each class
they get stamps—butterflies,
tigers, smiley faces
on the back of their hands.

Week Four: Finally they are given
their special kindermusik
xylophones, white plastic
with red metal keys,

are taught how to hold
the wooden mallets
how to hit each note
just so. No more improvisation,

no more roaring and dancing.
Ding, all together, ding.
At last, they’re making music.
Their teacher smiles and smiles.

Why I Work

I have a Calvinist streak in me.
It wraps around my spine,
holds tight to ovaries and eyes,
even pokes into my brain.
I can’t help it.
Doom is on my blood.
Since my mother left Kentucky,
I am not likely
to die of typhoid fever,
like my great-aunt,
or be buried by slag
in a flash flood,
like my great-grandmother.
but there is still cancer
and heart attack and house fire.
Even lying in bed on payday,
I feel like a sinner
in the hands of an angry God.

On The Washington Island Ferry

On the ferry
between land and island,
there is only calm waiting,
mild expectation. We sit
with hands folded,
our legs useless now.
It is not our muscles
that move us growling
through the water.
This journey parenthesis
around an hour
in which nothing happens,
like sleep,
like childhood,
that season of watchful waiting.

Copyright © Mudlark 2004
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