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  • Genesis
  • Jennifer Elise Foerster (bio)


I had been sleeping in the spine of the turtle,stones in my mouth.

Hadn't wanted to remember the languageof spilled things, the earthquakerumbling beneath us:

how we were wrested from our dreams,walked from the Great Divide, eastto the delta, following seeds, the dropping sun,then walked again, halfway back,caught by our shadows in front of us.


Awoke beneath a cornflower sky. Cathedralsmetallic against night clouds,poppies in a wide fieldspeckled with graves.

In our apartment on Bergstrassethe piano plays a requiem.Marble stairs spiral downward,a white rose opens into the city.

            Red dots on tile

A little girlinside the subwayfinds needlesand thread. [End Page 24]


They said:            an aged whore            abandoned to the woods            found a clot of blood            in a puddle of rain            and placed it in a jar

        (a child was born).


I was carried across the ocean in a bundle.A stranger had painted meon the back of a paper grocery sack,tucked it into the diaper bag.

Framed against velvet, my motherhung the portrait above my crib, said:            hoktuce hoktuce            don't you            forget.


Kristkindlmarkt. The glitter of an icy midnight.I am carrying a box of wooden figurines:baby Jesus, Mary, the cradle, four sheep.

A sweating woman in stockings, satin scarvesheaves past me toward the butcher shop.In her arms, a plump cherub.


Her story:

            I traveled to all the clans.            Asked them if I could warm my hands            on the other side of their fire.

            Go home, they said.            So I wandered. Dead. [End Page 25]

            I untangled the stories            from trees. Renetted            their secrets behind me.

            I met children on the road, lost            like you. Hominy. Blue            dumplings. Stew.

            Shelled the ingredients            from sores on my legs.


Snow swirling against glass.            Only angels among us will survive.I shift in a cold pewdoodling on the catechism.            We carried the fire from our villages            all the way to Oklahoma with the rain            and our wet blankets.


The Germans built a sweat lodgethe day we came. They gave us bread:Indians invited to an Indian Fair. They said,Meet our Shaman—she unwrappeda medicine sack: Aus Indianer.I held my hand outto meet hers. BlödeAmerikanerin, she barked,and shielded her hand with a wing fan,black, sinew wrapped.    I am part German, too, I replied.


All right then. Go home.


I am ripping the angel from my ribs.I am walking up a steep, cobbled street. [End Page 26] The tables have folded, carts wheeled away.Smashed windows, glass-blown ornaments,Glühwein, Lebkuchen, the air thickwith molasses, piss-stained stones,a church bench toppled amidst cardboard,whorehouse lit up from the inside:

    Christmas Eve. Der Nacht:

masked men surface from the mist on stilts,blue scarves tossed.

Through gauze: cornflowers.I lay down beneath a speckled ceiling,pull the white sheet over my face.


In a town along the Danube:the Gypsy's grave.

    A one-winged raven    flattened in an empty courtyard.

Strapped to an old woman's hunched backI am carried into high aspenwhere streams run fresh and cool.


Inside the oven: coal piles, cornbread.            Throw this inher front teeth—weathervanes.

    She places yellow kernels into my palm.

I hadn't wanted to rememberthe turtle spine I spilled from

    but her breasts creased    beneath layers of cloth    remind me of my grandmother: [End Page 27]

            plucking corn at the farm            until my fingers went numb            foreigner even then.


We were woodsmen once,fiddlers, poets. Papa says the Gypsyopened a paper mill in Massachusetts,then vanished west to read poemsto pretty Indian girls like Cosetta,or Elise, my middle nameafter Beethoven. Sitting on the benchat Nana Ellen's piano, a black widownesting in the Viennese tapestry,I played for the womenin der Judenplatz, and for Mozart,his bones in a pauper's grave.

    (They say if you are a real    Indian woman    you will return    to Oklahoma    to dance.)



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