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  • Yoke
  • Jessie Van Eerden (bio)

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment…And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my garments?"

Mark 5.25-30

Put your hands at the hip yoke, she says, above the lapped V-seam where the skirt gathers then flares. You feel where the womb waits? Where the weight gets carried? This is the center of all gravity. You feel it? She guides his palm with both her hands to the yoke of her [End Page 59] dress. The young man blushes and tucks his face away. Her feet are flat on the road, straddling her bicycle, dress bunched up. She releases the warm hand of the stranger walking by and returns her hands to the handlebars.

You feel it, she says, as he hurries off like a lamb.

Every so often along this road by the sea she does this, stops the forward movement of time—time that unmakes our skin and sight and takes in more of our finite heartbeats like someone filling a basket of barley—and she touches a stranger. Sometimes she puts both hands on his face as if a lover, sometimes she traces a woman's life line, sometimes she meets a young man like this one, with a shy face under a derby cap, who blushes when suddenly they are no longer strangers.

She pedals on. The jasmine blossoms quiver in the bicycle basket, peeking from the paper.


Can I come? her son asked.

Not this time, maybe next. She kissed his hot eyes, he toddled into her legs to hug goodbye with face and body, all his small strong bones.


She pedals on, comes to the wide place at the mountain's base. There is no throng but she pictures the throng. She leans her bicycle against a cedar and departs from its shade into the sun with her cut jasmine. It happened here, and she closes her eyes to hear the voices and scuffling soles, the forceful presence of bodies, and to feel herself again an emaciated husk of woman, eyes hollow, skin like crusts of bread, when she moved through the crowd without memory or plan. And [End Page 60] they raised their many voices to someone coming. She saw him in profile, hair simple and dark, shoulders narrow, he was not large. Despite the crowd, he seemed to be among no one, like a man on the shore watching the boats raise their sails. She felt nothing, her fingers curled in like prawn bodies, she was carried by the crowd's current, and he passed by with his simple body walking.

She is in the dust and presses her face to the huddle of tiny blossoms wrapped in paper, white with a blush of yellow at each center.

When he walked by, she felt as though she had passed through a curtain of ribbons each stitched with a line of lilies wilting, like a beaded curtain leading into a backroom but unstrung with beads and sewn with flower petals. Their softness touched everywhere her face, so many petals grazing her face like little hands. The curtain of his sadness—she passed through, and on the other side of the curtain, the air in the backroom was all changed air, charged with her own sadness, her twelve years of hair and flesh going to dull metal, and before that, the years of all she ever was—girl on bike, girl tasting fig, girl spitting venom, girl with hem high slip shown slipped up, woman coming, O the tip of her life—then the menses draining, twelve years niddah, untouched, with blood that would not stop.

She stanched it with rags, raw cotton, with sheep's wool. Untouched, she stemmed the flow alone, knitted pads of rabbit fur, scrub grass, moss...


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pp. 59-63
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