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Jessica, From the Well

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.


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.


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.


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 &
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.


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,


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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Mark, Kiti and Kathleen's picture
Mark, Kiti and ... · 8 years ago

Thousands of deceased English teachers,


Just rolled over in their graves.


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