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Jill Alexander Essbaum
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If you see me in church this weekend, I’ll be crying. Wait. Scratch that. I’ll be weeping. Hmm. No. That’s not right either. Try: Sobbing. Bawling. Engaging in a back-pew sort of break-down best reserved for funerals (and only really, really, really tragic ones at that). I know. It totally doesn’t make sense. In the fairy tale of Holy Week, Easter’s the happy ending. It’s the Resurrection! It’s death undone! It’s every promise rendered right! It’s bunnies and chocolate! Jesus, Jill. Jill—it’s Jesus! AND YET: The minute that stone is rolled away I lose my shit. Crude, but there’s no other way to put it. Easter fucks me up.* A digression, not particularly brief. Indulge, please: Indomitable faith isn’t my strong suit. I’m pretty good at misgiving; doubt’s my specialty. Trust? A habit I’ve unlearned. My conviction is never convinced and what assurance I do have is never, but never blessèd. Therefore my belief in God comes and goes in the manner of a city train: it chugs from Skepticism as if it were a northern suburb and it runs all the way down to Denial, an outlying town at the end of the line. And while I do indeed disembark at Spirituality Central Station often enough to know which tram will get me to the cathedral without having to look it up in a Frommer’s, at some point I get back on the train. It’s inevitable. To do otherwise would to not be Jill. This is part of the problem. But even in doubt, I have always prayed. I pray, in fact, in the manner that Sugar advises us to write which is like a motherfucker. I pray like Shaft prays. Eat your heart out, Roundtree. Can you dig it? I pray aloud. I pray loudly. I pray all day long, though my self-appointed hour is five am. I take a pre-dawn walk and speak to the sky. God’s come to expect me at that time. (Lest you find me too virtuous for my vestments, I ought to confess it took months for me to train myself to pray for other people beyond ‘andgodpleaseblesssoandsoamen.’ Mostly when I pray I’m thrice a singer’s third syllable solfège: Mi, mi, mi. Not so proud, not so pious.) But I pray. Boldly. Like how Luther says to sin. I’m not very nice about it. I’m adamant. My most-prayed prayer? What Jacob told the angel. I will not let you go until you bless me. To which I add: And then, I still won’t let you go. To which I also add: Dammit. And so I doubt. And so I pray. I’m ok with that. I don’t think it’s so unusual. I’m not the only one of us who walks and chews gum at the same time. This is a tension I’ve held for years. Tension, you know, is sometimes called for. A guy-wire must be taut to be of any stabilizing use. And what this tensity has taught me is that slackening isn’t... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
(Yup. What follows is a Christian, Christmas sermon. You've been warned.) A couple of weeks ago I was on a flight from Palm Springs, returning home from the December residency of the MFA low-res program in which I teach (UCR-Palm Desert: The Hottest MFA in the Country—no, it’s true; our posters say so). I’m not a brilliant flier. Airplanes make little sense to me and thus, they terrify. Sometimes I take a valium. Sometimes I white-knuckle my way through the turbulence and the beverage service. And sometimes, as in this instance, I strike up a conversation with the poor sap sitting next to me. My seat mate was young and very handsome. He worked as a supervisor on an herb farm in the Coachella Valley. He was traveling to Miami with his boss. His hometown was Jerusalem. His name was Mohammed. We had a nice chat, us. I inquired after the herbs he farmed. What’s the best one? I asked. The chive, he replied. It's the hardest to grow. I asked about his family. Ten years ago a brain tumor killed his father. My own father's been dead a little over a decade, and I said as much. We offered each other the condolences of paternal loss. My anxiety concerning flying also breeds a sort of superstition that if you were to witness it in action, you'd be hard pressed not to laugh out loud. As a measure against potential turmoil in the sky, I observe several rituals: I must always enter an airplane with my right foot, and I must do it while crossing myself or it doesn't count; I must never look into the pilot's cabin because that would be bad luck, and I must always wear the same necklace-- a long chain from which pends among other trinkets (my father’s high school ring, an antique portrait of a Viennese gentleman), a large and ornate cross. Mohammed pointed at the cross. Are you a Christian?, he asked. Yeah, I replied. Um, are you a Muslim? Of course he was. I like talking about religion. Not because I wish to proselytize—that is neither my talent nor my business to accomplish—but because you can learn so much of what’s necessary to know about another person simply by asking him what he believes. Or, what he doesn't. And so I asked Mohammed to speak to me of his faith. How he practiced it. What it meant to him. How it guided and directed his life. As the conversation deepened, and because Mohammed had such a gentle and unassuming mien, I felt bold enough to ask him a question that was probably ruder and more personal that I needed to be asking a stranger on an airplane. I asked him point blank to tell me why he was a Muslim. Like, why exactly. What makes his prophet so special? Why the Koran? Was I an infidel? Would Allah not save me from the fires of a Muslim hell? I wanted to know... Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
...since I've posted any puns. "Are y'all havin' any symptims of depruvation?" Jill asked, concerning withdrawal. Ok. That was bad. Real, real bad. As are the following, unapologetically harebrained Tom Swifties. The Tom Swifty is my pun préféré. Like all puns, it contains, in the brevity of its form, the twin potentials of greatness and ridiculousness. These are at once too clever by three-fourths and as self-indulgent as a dozen showers a day during a drought. Love them or loathe them, here they are. "And now, I shall overthrow the government!" Tom cooed. "I prefer the pumpernickel," Tom said, wryly. "Replace the semi-colon between the month and year," Tom accommodated. "Pass the Pepto," Tom said, abysmally. "But how should a former husband behave?" Tom said, exactly. "Thanks for the zester," Tom said, gratefully. "I wish the mohel would hurry up and get here," Tom said, briskly. "I'll stand by U," Tom said, cutely. (Get it?) "Welcome to my apartment," Tom said, flatly. "Lookit my foreskin!" Tom retracted. "I can't find my daughter-in-law," Naomi said, ruthlessly. "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him," Tom skulked. "Imma drive you around in mah borrowed Ford," Tom said, truculently. "Did I swallow the petroleum jelly? Did I spit it out?" Tom vacillated. And now, my three favorites of the day: "Mother Superior's gone missing!" Tom said, nonetheless. "It'll be a fantastic voyage!" Tom said, inhumanely. "Fuck you!" Tom said, effusively. Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Exactly one year ago today, I was in Switzerland on a visit. I stayed with my dear, dear friend Susana Gardner in her home in Wallisellen. We drank, we gossiped, we plotted world poetic domination. I love this lady immensely. Susana is the curator / editrix / head beauty in charge of Dusie, a fantabulous multi-tiered organization that includes a press, a publishing collective, a journal, and (blessedly) a pillow for me to lay my head upon whenever I land in Kanton Zürich. On Thursday, August 12, at 8 pm, Susana Gardner, Cara Benson, Mairéad Byrne, Caroline Crumpacker, Eileen Myles, and Kate Zambreno will be reading from their new works. The reading is at Book Thug Nation in Brooklyn, New York (100 N 3rd St. between Berry Street and Wythe Avenue). That's a rock-star line-up if ever there was one. I want so badly to attend this reading but I can't quite swing the scratch to fly from Austin to NYC for just a night. So what I'm hoping is that anyone who CAN attend this reading WILL attend it. And that if you go, you'll sidle up to Susana and give her a hug and say simply "That's from Jill." Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
When you're dying to visit Latvia. Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
She was always being typecast as a phlegm-fatale. Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Statue of James Joyce at his grave in Zurich A favorite memory from Switzerland. Craig and Robin come to visit me. We share a picnic of cheese and cherries and bread in the park behind the Landesmuseum near the Zurich Hauptbahnhof. We sit on the concrete-floored gazebo, and there are ants. Later, it is a trek to James Joyce's gravesite. We are appropriately reverent and also appropriately irreverent. We may or may not quote passages from Joycean works (alas, I do not recall). I may or may not mention that my prefered Joyce is 'Carol Oates.' Robin, I think, is bored. The sun is high and hot in the sky. It is summer. I had broken a tooth on a frozen bar of chocolate the night before and am wearing an odd prosthetic. My Swiss dentist also has a son named Robin. Later, Craig cooks a supper for all of us. It is pasta, if I remember rightly, and it is exquisite. As Craig's meals always were. Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
My mother died in 2004 from an excruciatingly rapid progression of Lou Gehrig's disease (symptoms began to manifest in the Spring of 2003; her death occurred in January). It's been six years. The grief isn't fresh, and it's not even near, but it's still accessible. Accessibility is in grief's nature. If new grief is the laceration spouting blood, then old grief is the long, itchy scar that sometimes flares. And there are as many things that can palliate it as can enflame it. But today, I'm gonna balm that wily cicatrix by honoring the skill I am most grateful to have learned from her: how to laugh. I inherited my sense of humor from my mother, a sense of humor that's crass, often offensive, always puerile, and more times than not, originates in the bathroom. To wit: the last movie I watched with her was the third in the American Pie series, American Wedding. During the trimmed pubic hair scene (Google it if it's unfamiliar), she laughed so hard that the soda pop I was holding for her to sip through a straw came out of her nose. That's how she rolled, my momma. So in memory of Gloria Ann Steinmeyer Schulz Hale, I lovingly offer this irreverent, inappropriate pun, written especially for her. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I miss you. "Didya hear about the woman in New York state who kept giving birth to haunted babies?" "Damn. That's an eerie canal." Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
That's my favorite poetry powerhouse and yours, Kate Greenstreet (left). As has been reported on this blog and many others before, she's on a marathon reading tour. I heard her read tonight along with poet Laura Smith here in Austin at the home of Hoa Nguyen and Dale Smith. Tomorrow Kate and Hoa will be reading (along with Marcia Roberts) at Trinity University in San Antonio. On Wednesday Kate is in Dallas. Thursday, Norman, Oklahoma. And so it goes. HERE is a link to her remaining readings. Get yourself to one of these readings, if you can. What I love about Kate is that between her inimitable poetic style (I'm tempted to call it 'wryly haunted' but am afraid to attach too glib a descriptive to it) and her unassailable delivery lies a woman and a poet who I am very glad exists in our world. She's the real deal. Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
In a city of singing cats, a lonely beat poet falls for a beautiful siren. When a mysterious dark figure emerges, kidnapping the town’s singers for his twisted musical plans, the poet must save his muse and put an end to the nefarious tune that threatens to destroy the city. From the official site of The Cat Piano Cats? Check. Poetry? Check. Narration by the inestimable Nick Cave? Check, check, check. These are a few of my favorite things. Watch it. Now. Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
To curry flavor with the rice. Ouch. Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Is it: I think (there's a fucking razor in this muffin) therefore I am (not going to eat the damn thing) ? More affectionately known as the Cogito Ergo Sumbitch!
Toggle Commented Apr 30, 2008 on This Just In at The Best American Poetry
Shanna-- I will most certainly do that! Noah-- Oh heavens, you _must_ see him live when you get a chance. You don't happen to live in London, do you? I have a spare ticket for the show next week.