Salome Magazine
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LAce Posted Monday, January 19th, 2009
The First Vestal Death
Jessica Edwards

Your eye begs, splits open like an olive,
Bleeding oil for bread, for green rosemary
And garlic that was your hearth. The eye
Strains against dark dirt grit on your tongue,
Eyelash, in your hair fair and fairly soon
Composting into the dirt grit Rome

Soil. All the choice and fate that roam
In your green philosophy—no good. Olive
Branches won’t help. But you knew this; soon
Your teeth will grow brittle as dried rosemary.
And too your tongue.
And too your eye.

And is this tomb of earth worth his eye,
Fingertip, kneecap? When in Rome
They say…And he was. He was in Rome, his tongue,
Fingertip, knucklebone searching the olive
Mounds of your breasts. A rosemary
Stem skewers fresh shrimp and soon,

On the Tyrrhenian coast, peasants will feast. Soon,
Your last supper of loam and worm; your eye
Hungry, your belly aching to marry
Him—or aching just for air. In a Rome
Night you are buried, breathing, but will grow into an olive
Tree, a constellation of dull fruit, your tongue

A branch wagging at thick stars. His tongue
Lulls in the warm cave of his mouth. He is silent but soon
Will call out to your dead ear, “Olive
You.” It was a private joke that cost you an eye,
An ankle, your life. He will roam
The brittle Italian fields where rosemary

Grows wild, searching for your tomb. Rosemary,
And the scent of sweat, grow wild. Your tongue,
Full of dirt, freed only for one night. Once Rome
Is empty. Or is full; a gritty monsoon
Your only bounty. No herbs grow over the season of your dead eye.
There were six of you in the palace. Now, five slice a single olive.

Centuries later: Two women buy olives in Rome:
One offers tongue, hip, eye to
A lover. The other, virgin, plants rosemary.


All this slow unbreathing
here beneath waves
and sun and breezes from
the south—She sleeps in the vulvar
cups of anemones, sleeps in tidal
evenings, both eyes scrunched
as angry fists, noctilucent fish
and eels curling around her mouth, thighs,
clenched fingers. They feed on her shedding
skin. They glow from her. She decays
from lung to gill to rot. She eats salt and snails,
hunts in the swaying landscape of a benthoic forest.
She aches for Lethe, the hunger
and anger of a mythology that does her
not one damn bit of good, no good
here beneath waves in the muck
of unclear waters, of waters chilled
beyond ice. Her feet are stuck in a silty
slime of the shifting floor. Her teeth,
sticky pearls, shine like feeding eels.
           she was azalea a feverish sun,
           grand canyon and eagle, was
           fluttering feathered hope, diamond.

I am she and all women with mouths full
of pearl and shell and ache.
I ask why she
            a woman thirty and unpregnant
            maimed inside and skin
            pocked with scales and hate
won’t mourn.
Why she cannot howl out
in a biting sadness beyond both hollow
and noise for the others, the insignificant
all who die around her in her history—
           squirrel decaying on a patchy lawn
           rabbit crushing under a quick tire
           turtle baking in a Florida sun
           and toads and cats and deer and a bulleted boy.
Why is she only poison and skin and silent,
unlayered pearl. Nothing but a single eye
of sand in the folds of a single mussel.

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