And He Takes and He Takes and He Takes || Nikki Ummel

I.
Tess marks time with her daughter’s body:
                     bones grow in cadence to the hourglass
     slip of sand grains

                                                            after n overcast beach day
                                                                    Tess rinses soap suds and
                                                            Sarasota sugar sand
                                                                    from her daughter’s skin

Elah: the valley where David slay Goliath       עמק האלה      Emek HaElah
            named for overcoming     for the slaughter of giants

                          Elah’s hair tickles kneecaps
                                               swishes like a skirt

                                                                    Tess braids her daughter’s hair every morning
                                                              lays hands on every inch
                                                                    of coarse curl then ropes
                                                    the thick braid around her daughter’s waist

                                       she tethers Elah to her five-year-old body

as old as Tess’ father is dead

                        as he withered & scabbed
                                        on a worn futon cushion

                           Elah grew strong in the womb

                                                                                             Tess prayed for the strength
                                                                                          to raise her אֶ֙בֶן     eben     stone of help
                                                                                                                     take aim at her גָּלְיָת
                                                                                                                                                  Golyath

II.
She bore Elah in mourning      in a black maternity dress
                finger-painted her daughter with afterbirth
                         forced her to bear witness as גָּלְיָת     Golyath     the revealer
                                                                                                         giant who uncovers
                                                                                                                      lingered in the corner

Grief stitched itself
into pituitary
coaxed forth
a manic rush of HGH

                           Elah is large for her age     the x-ray
                             reveals a skeleton two years too old

                                                               עֶצֶם     etsem     bones/substance/self
                                                               too big for her body

                                                          Elah is five     her skeleton is seven     a cage fit to burst
                                                           her ribs bars of iron     her bones of bronze

Tess stuffs her own mouth with fig leaves
                           until she chokes on תִּפְאַרְתֶּֽךָ׃     tipharah     Glory Be

                                                                                Glory Be                         Glory Be

Nikki Ummel is a queer writer, editor, and educator in New Orleans. Nikki has been published or is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, The Adroit, Hobart, The Georgia Review, and more. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and twice awarded an Academy of American Poets Award. She is currently the Associate Poetry Editor for Bayou Magazine and co-curator of the Gold Room reading series. You can find her on the web at www.nikkiummel.com.

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