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Monday, February 08, 2021


by Deborah Gorlin

Phineas Pratt's Grave in Charlestown MA

The inscriptions a kid could cartoon
on a gravestone, crude and simplistic,
the skull-soul effigy a kind of gothic lithic
Jack-o-lantern, wide hollows for eyes,
triangle for nose, slotted mouth,
snaggle-toothed, Medusa-like heads
winging hair. A second childhood
for the Puritan church as some feature
breasts, amen, as God-besotted poet
Edward Taylor wrote unblushingly,
his syntax, don’t ask, “to put these
nibbles, then my mouth into and suckle
me therewith humbly pray.” Gravestones
that put one in mind of crumbly English
biscuits, taken at teatime. Their headboards
face east towards the sunrise, when the dead
will wake one fine Sunday morning to the smell
of pancakes the Lord makes at a sleepover.
But the news today tells me they won’t
wait—rebranded their black white outfits,
buckled shoes, top hats, dressed this time
as the half-naked shaman in bear skins,
horn helmet, face paint, just like their old
enemies the Indians, why not, it’s on their land,
the Senate floor, to save us from those devils
in Pederast Forest. Fake 'em out. Boys. 
An impatient breed these new pilgrims, grown
young, who, in their first iteration, claimed
that specters in dreams and visions, those
with a third nipple, an ugly birthmark, a black
cat familiar, were evidence in a court of law
for burning witches and warlocks. Emboldened,
always exceptional, they invent new ways to rise
from their shallow graves of history, their scraggly
tombstones askew, who refuse, even their God, to die.

Deborah Gorlin is the author of two books of poems, Bodily Course (White Pine Poetry Press Prize) and Life of the Garment (Bauhan Publishing, winner of the 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize). She has published in a wide range of journals including Poetry, Antioch Review, American Poetry Review, Seneca Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Harvard Review, Green Mountains Review, Bomb, Connecticut Review, Women’s Review of Books, New England Review, and Best Spiritual Writing 2000. Recent poems appear in Plume, On the Seawall, Chicago Quarterly, Trampoline, and the Ekphrastic Review. Emeritus associate faculty of the Writing Program at Hampshire College, she serves as a poetry editor at The Massachusetts Review