Jean Nordhaus

On My Birthday


All last night my mother labored

to bring me into this world

and this morning just before dawn


I arrived. My arms and legs

trembled like cornstalks

in wind. My navel burned.


It was November and the war

was over. Then as now

the rain had ended, the sky


blurred with tears. Blinded

in the watery light, I risked

a tentative breath—another—


imagining the labor done,

though every morning waking now,

I turn my face to the floodgates


of light and every night

lie down again in darkness

and wrestle with my angels to be born.

The Slope


sheers away beneath my feet, white

as a page, and despite what I know

of gravity, I launch myself

over the lip. To survive,

I must turn, so I turn.

And turn again. Wend.

Twine. Queen

of my own descent,

greeting my subjects

on either side. Adored

by the wind, I process

down a spillway

of broken falls: caught

and released, caught and

released, each pivot

and curve complete and perfect

in the breath

before it happens.

I follow the slope

of the unpredictable, the nearly

visible line,

as it shifts and flows

beneath my feet. Swivel

and tilt. A bird

in the wind, I am lighter

than a floating ash,

alive as a tuning fork.

Here is the shape

of my passage—what sun

will melt and new snows

blanket—the sinuous

line I have left behind me

in the snow.




Mummied in dishtowels,

ferried in crocks, from cousins,

from neighbors, it came

still warm from the oven,

puddled in succulent gravies,

swaddled in onions, sinewy

and kosher, dense as grief.

Not brisket again, we groaned,

joking, for we still could,

taking into bodies that still

grew hungry, the generous

funeral meat. A full moon

hung in the haunch of sky

like a pot scrubbed clean

to be filled and empty and

fill again and every night

in the blazing kitchen

we sat down together and ate.

Jean Nordhaus was the subject of our Closer Look in Innisfree 13: Her fourth volume of poetry, Innocence, won the Charles B. Wheeler Prize and was published by The Ohio State University Press in 2006.  Her other books include The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn (Milkweed Editions, 2002), My Life in Hiding (Quarterly Review of Literature, 1991), A Bracelet of Lies (Washington Writers' Publishing House, 1987) and two chapbooks, A Purchase of Porcelain and A Language of Hands



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A CLOSER LOOK: Afaa Michael Weaver

Jon Barrows

Doritt Carroll

Joan Colby

Bill Freedman

Edward H. Garcia

Ashley Goedker

Sid Gold

Paul Haenel

Gerald Jonas

Michael Lauchlan

J.T. Ledbetter

Lyn Lifshin

Saundra Rose Maley

Art Nahill

Jean Nordhaus

Simon Perchik

Roger Pfingston

Barbara Presnell

Oliver Rice

David Salner

Sam Sipe

Janice D. Soderling

Israel Wasserstein

Rebecca York














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