Poetry: Esau’s Daughter by Lindsay Adkins

Lindsay Adkins’ series of poems meditates on the famous character of Jewish literature from a new point of view—revealing, in its turnings and its own unique violences, a brickwork story of a daughter’s redemptive eager. “Fathers are made in the mind,” she says, and so are the burdens we’re tasked to unravel from our parents.

Esau’s Daughter

An old testament: bark will not bend to story—
it leaves before the paper is pressed.

+++++But find my lines in the shuffle of pages—
+++++limbs resisting spine, thigh nock to dash of shoulder,

little pull-back of my mother’s arc bow womb,
my father’s hunt not to the rib but from it—

+++++I know how to curve my fingers
+++++around his mistakes. I know

about stray arrows stuck in the mud,
their heads snagged on roots, their shafts

+++++cracked in my calloused palms. But I know, too,
+++++about hitting marks: the slow peel back of fur

from flesh, the basin-drip beneath the artery,
the evening drained through the throat—

+++++the kiss of meat and bone. I try to imagine
+++++it isn’t me, like I can’t jump out of my own

skin, like I don’t bleed every night
fixing the halo to my tilted head.



Where does the mind go—after?
+++++Sorry. I don’t want to alarm you.
++++++++++What I mean is try
+++++to keep this alwaysness about you
because nothing shines
+++++like an empty house in summer,
++++++++++the way sunlight clings like skin
+++++to the windows, and heat rises
and ripples the roof shingles.
+++++My father was firstborn—I used to think
++++++++++this mattered, like our bodies
+++++hold onto order. But look, here—
order holds onto us:
+++++All these wooden floors
++++++++++with foot-shaped faded spots,
+++++mattresses concave to spines
since turned to dust.
+++++Outside, a cardinal is smushed
++++++++++in the driveway
+++++like a paper heart. No matter,
then, the way Esau’s raw hands
+++++traced the furrowed bellies,
++++++++++a lover’s easy grapple
+++++for a spot to slip in the blade,
or the grip Jacob had for a god
+++++he could not see, a reach
++++++++++until his hand found anything—
+++++his brother’s rucked up heel,
a spoon,
+++++a blessing.
++++++++++So give me instead
+++++gods whose souls catch
in their throats.
+++++I want to feel a need
++++++++++on both sides of my skin—
+++++pull at a hoof, hush its muscle,
come into the after,
+++++like the wooden door too fat
++++++++++on humidity to fit in its frame,
+++++like those red feathers
+++++on hot concrete,
++++++++++like the blade
+++++pushed through flesh.



++++++++++My father fell from earth easy
as stewed meat from the bone.

+++++++++++++++What did I learn from this?
+++++That a headless human body,

++++++++++++++++++++slumped and carried on shoulders,
++++++++++looks like a slaughtered buck. I ran—

+++++++++++++++I did!—to where the others were hanging,
+++++antlers skimming red mud, chests open

++++++++++like bloody butterflies, and looked
for rope to pull up the newly hunted.

+++++++++++++++But then I saw—feet, hands.
+++++I stood with his dead and their eyes

++++++++++++++++++++as he was brought into the house
++++++++++for the last time, without his eyes.

+++++++++++++++He never left a head behind, tossed
+++++to the weeds at the lip of some cave, but we

++++++++++carved a space amid the oak tree roots
for his torso and limbs

+++++++++++++++while miles away, his face—
+++++spinal cord thrusting out of hacked neck—

++++++++++++++++++++rolled and lobbed atop his father’s grave.
++++++++++The shine of open eyelids white,

+++++++++++++++blood dripping back to the artery,
+++++the pull of an arrow

++++++++++out of flesh and into the bow nock—
+++++++++++++++there is so much wind between

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++his bones.



Fathers are made
+++++++++++++++in the mind
+++++and some nights,
++++++++++++++++++++I dream of you.
+++++++++++++++You become the
+++++bowl of stew,
++++++++++++++++++++the one cooked
by your brother
+++++as if your birth order could be
+++++++++++++++chopped and seasoned,
simmered and stirred.
+++++++++++++++He slurps from
++++++++++++++++++++his wooden spoon
slants his head back and
+++++++++++++++pulls the broth down
+++++his throat.
It is red with spice,
+++++++++++++++and he gnashes
+++++at his mouth corner
++++++++++++++++++++for a bit of potato skin.
+++++++++++++++Drops of you
+++++still sway
++++++++++++++++++++in the bowl curve
push down the table leg,
+++++lift to my nose,
++++++++++++++++++++but he laughs and says
you are gone.
+++++++++++++++With a belch, he turns you
++++++++++++++++++++into a ghost.
I walk by with
+++++++++++++++two ladles-full of you,
+++++heave the heat
into his face,
+++++++++++++++wake up starving.




Lindsay Adkins

Lindsay Adkins is a recipient of the 2018 Amy Award from Poets & Writers and the 2011 Phyllis B. Abrahms Award in Poetry. Her work has appeared in Sugar House Review, The Southampton Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Sequestrum, Muse/A Journal, The 2River View, and others. She is a current MFA candidate at Stony Brook Southampton.

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