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What Isn’t Mine

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Let us tunnel
Through the rubble,

Through the thrum.
Let us rut through the sum

Of who we were,
Or are,

Or will be in the years to come:
A couple

Of someones
Who used to be in love.

Used to be in love.
Ho. Hum.

These days: Seem to be in hate.
Gypsum, marble, pyrite, slate.

See here. A pit of snakes.
Look there. The rock of your rages.

And I’m in a cable-cage, slinking down your shaft.
You fondle that hefty What if. . . ? as if

To hurl it. All the other holes
Are blatant hells.

A dragline scrapes our fossicked floor.
I am the ether. You are the ore.

This is the war that nobody won.
Like afterdamp collapsing a lung.

You take to swinging a pickaxe.
I take back my vamping kinks

And the pavement beneath us sinks.
This stinks. Think: In-situ leaching

But with leeches, louses,
Lampreys. Oh Spouse,

Your hard hat leaks a surfeit
Of lamp rays that’s wasted sub-surface.

A night so pitch it’s perfectly black.
A sapphire scarred by a scratch.

Sickness, health, abundance, lack.
The salt in my wound. The shirt off your back.

So our bloodcup runs empty of urge.
The metallurgy

We’re made of demands its dirge.
Our burrows diverge.

Our passages split.
Copper, silver, gravel, grit.

Am I—perhaps—alluvial?
Un-live-with-able?

A bit too simple or silty?
Only gold really ought be gilty.

And you are as cold as coal.
I am your dole, your lode,

Your carbon-flawed diamond.
All told: We drilled and hit demons.

Granite, though, is good for graves.
Granted, a mine isn’t quite a cave.

What isn’t mine, I cannot give.

Source: Poetry (December 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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What Isn’t Mine

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  • Born in Bay City, Texas, poet and editor Jill Alexander Essbaum was educated at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, and the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.
     
    Influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Simon Armitage, and Sylvia Plath, Essbaum’s poems bring together sex, divinity, and wordplay, blithely working with received forms and displaying a nuanced attention to rhyme and meter. Speaking to this unusual combination of themes in an interview with Eratosphere, Essbaum observed, “Why the pairing of sexual and religious expression seems wrong to our post-modern American ears, I think, is because we’re all (no matter what we believe or don’t) direct inheritors of a Puritan heritage that disdains human physicality … in lieu of pursuits of the spirit alone.” In a Coldfront review of Necropolis, critic Rick Marlatt noted, “Known for their remarkable mix of eroticism and religiosity, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poems vibrate with well-proportioned...

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