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Jessica, From the Well


[clock] 6-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Summer 1988
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 14,
1987, Jessica McClure, of Jessica, From the Well, removed
a flower pot which covered a hole in her aunt’s back yard
in Midland, Texas. The 18-month old girl slipped down
through an 8-inch-wide opening into an abandoned well
shaft. She remained there until her rescue on Friday
evening, 58 hours later. Upon her emergence from the
well, psychiatrists assured the American public through
the media that Jessica, though physically battered from
her ordeal, would have no psychological scarring, no
memory of the event.

  • I.

    In the oubliette, she will begin to sing:

    This is what it was like: the morning
    pale all above me, a patch of sky
    like a blue poker flung into a floor
    of earth, this is what I have to go on.
    I am on my knees at first, a Jessica
    in prayer. I pray against the rose
    caliche, the hardpan rock, a marbling
    of new wound in my forehead.
    I’ve never spoken aloud yet to anyone
    alive, but I know all the words.
    On Wednesday morning I slipped down
    the shaft like the small mythic creature
    I have always known I ought to be.
    No one was looking.
    I am mutable still, in form, I fold myself.
    It is a gift to be this small & aboriginal.
    Even without food, I am growing
    & I find this frightful that my body
    will become too large to live here comfortably.
    The earth opens for me
    as I always knew it would for a wish.

  • II.

    All day, I am divined
    by sunlight & October has gone
    damask, ocherous. When I learn a word
    sometimes, I am compelled to use it, lutescent
    little creature that I am, the underground
    incarnadine. Given my disposition, I will always be
    circuitous, precocious, an Embellisher.
    Like Oskar, I can make a world
    change with my voice, can shatter the diamond
    tipped bits of the drill, can make the wells’ walls glitter
    back at me. My own voice travels sideways
    as it zigzags to the titian center
    of the earth & curls back up to me
    like a seamstress’ needle against her thimble
    in the very center of the Taj Mahal.
    I am the only one alive.

    By dusk, I am running out
    of ways to warm myself.
    I have warmed my self with my self.
    My own limbs curled all about me, fetal.
    Sometimes, I am so obvious like that.
    Wombish, childish, transparent.
    I sing & somewhere above, they can hear me
    humming along with myself & myself.
    A choir of me’s.
    By nightfall, only a small albino fracture
    will be left of the moon
    & I will have lost all light to navigate.
    Soon I will be famous.

  • III.

    By midnight, I can hear my own heart thump
    against the well, dry for a million miles
    till it hits the water corrugated by the beating
    as it ripples back to me. It is instantly
    recognizable, the way a mother cat knows
    her own by scent & self love. It is me.
    Sometimes I am unbearably loquacious
    especially concerning my own functions, form.
    Before this day, my skin was never marred
    & Quaker pink. My forehead has opened now
    quite by happenstance, the etching on a wall
    of an undiscovered cave, unlucky hieroglyph.

    Take, for instance, my right leg
    which, by midnight, I have accidentally wedged
    in a notorious & irredeemable position.
    I hate to be unnatural, especially in personal geometry
    & by now, the leg has lodged irrevocably up
    against my face, unbound, unfortunate.
    There is to be no turning
    back & I will sing & think of crying
    for the first time so they’ll know
    at last I’ve blundered. I lean
    into the rock, a willful child, a little bruised
    & if I go out I will die dreaming.

  • IV.

    I had forgotten the small news of the night
    between dreams & waking into the warm
    smooth blown air shimmying down the oval
    of the well. In the whole history of song
    I know very few. So this is what it’s like.
    I am fixing on the hemp clothesline
    strung across Aunt Jamie Moore’s back yard,
    on last week’s laundered sheets, triangled
    like sails, splashed with hyacinth & vetch
    they stiffen in the wind against a Texan cobalt
    sky. It is dawn. All night long
    my eyes widened to accommodate the lack
    of light, a self-illumined glowfish flat
    on its side, I keep my flicker constant, wide awake
    while sleeping, both eyes ajar.

    Big gangly weeping gamey men, Sweethearts &
    Insomniacs,
    keep prodding me to sing.
    And I sing.

    And: Move your foot for me, Juicy.
    And I wiggle it back for the man.

    And: How does a kitten go?
    And I go like a kitten goes, on

    & on in that throaty liquid lewd bowlegged
    voice like kittens make.
    Then shut these big ole eyes.

  • V.

    Someday, I will be buried above ground
    like Monroe, vaulted
    always in the midst of flowers & sentiment,
    On the descent, I was magically compact
    boneless, as agile as water itself always
    on the way toward other water.
    The noise of my own form against the loosening
    walls as I am born into the dark
    rococo teratogenic rooms of the underground.
    All the noise of the world
    stops here & muffles, muffles me.
    This town knows how to drill.
    Sometimes my imagination gets to running wild.

    Bring me back
    alive. It was so simple to come down.
    I wake with my own hair wound
    into my fist, in sleep I’ve torn my own
    self—pretty, milky curls.
    A spool of me.
    In the matter of my toes, there has been damage done
    but when I come back, they’ll pinken up I’m sure.
    In America: Hard Work & Prayer.
    Resilience is bliss in the body,
    the voodoo of immunity,
    the will to come back,
    Deliverance.

  • VI.

    Surrounded by jelly, an accouterment of eros for ascent
    from the well, I am born.
    Wide eyed & swaddled in white linens, I emerge
    pristine & preserved, like some Egyptian form
    accompanied & gifted
    with all the Nilotic charms
    necessary for the long quicksilver moments
    of the Afterlife.
    So this is it.
    I rub my eyes in newslight as if awakening
    from the mere corn yellow husks
    of slumber of an ordinary lateday nap.

  • The heart is left in situ, I am lifted
    from the oubliette, utterly
    metamorphic, divine by water, blinking by air.
    I cannot speak a word yet, but I know them all.
    I sing, holding a piece of myself in my hand,
    it is hair & fear & the church bells muscle
    against each other
    & the earth opens for me
    as I always knew it would do for a myth.
    Given my character, I will always be mercurial,
    a little sentimental, star-shaped & terrestrial
    divine by water, healed by air
    luminescent, inconceivable, a prayer
    a Jessica, I sing.

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