Leah, against the sky

My body         only curves in the dark.
Between my thighs     I am wet as the next.
Who eats olives for the pits alone?     Some say
my eyes are weak,      some almond.      The sky
is full of sorrow. I dip my hands in a pail
of warm milk; cool mud soothes        a bee sting.
A son has a name    but no one knows his purpose.
As if I could drown myself    in the grass; all blades
make a visible rhythm. I dream of climbing into
the cow’s wide eye. To burrow        in her pupil,
pulling down the lashes. How do you know
whom he loves,         how much? If I dig
long enough. Good or bad,    the birds
are omens.

 


Zilpah’s Song

It was late at night and I was brushing my hair. Rough strokes. I could hear the children breathing in their beds. One of the babies was crying and one of its mothers was humming. All day L.’s eyes had tracked me: calves to hipbones to ribs through the white cloth. As if she were unraveling me. I keep my lips together and my mind taut. When I was little, I had a pet hen; I held grains in my hand and she pecked them, clumsily, with her stubby beak. If I cried, she would try to fly up to my room, her round body falling in the dirt, making clouds. I finished brushing my hair. He was standing behind me, head down, so I knew L. had sent him. I always wanted my bed to sit under a tree, I told him, and he dragged the mattress for miles until we found one. There are no trees on the Harran plain. He fumbled with my skirts, and I listened for crickets. Then everything was still. I was swimming through the fields.

 

 

Rachel, in the night;
Jacob, in the day   

I lie beneath an olive tree, five points on the earth, my head touching roots.

            In the morning, I found her under a tree. Small welts on her skin,
            but the  pain was slight. We rode as long as she could. Then stopped.  

I am a black wool tent, no rings in my ears; tufts of grass scratch stripes on my ankles.

            What the midwife calls ‘a son,’ she called ‘affliction.’ Whom I wanted
            to call wife, I called sister; sister, wife.

Once, at night, Jacob met an angel; I only met a man. I only sleep with silence.

            When the boy was born. When her body went slack. When he cried.
            I washed her with my own two hands.           

My little boy sleeps in the folds of his father.

            You break into the earth to build her bed.
            You go into the ground and wait for the other.
                       
Red ants, red ants all on my legs and my fingers.


Julia Hansen lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, Joseph Chapman, and will complete her MFA at the University of Virginia in May 2009. Her awards include the Academy of American Poets Prize (2008), the Henry Hoyns Fellowship (2006), and the Blanche Armfield Poetry Prize (2004).