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.
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,
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
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
It is red with spice,
and he gnashes
at his mouth corner
for a bit of potato skin.
Drops of you
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 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.