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Jessica Purdy – The Elephant’s Child

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Jessica Purdy

The Elephant’s Child

“Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.” — Rudyard Kipling


On Cape Cod even rocks have a scent. Resonant as if the sun is distilled within them. I’m here now. There’s this wooden ladder become part of the earth on its side at the top of a hill near hydrangeas. The sandy, random way things fall. The scrub pines’ fragrant too, and spongy deadfall. Ferns curled and browning. Something scuttles in the underbrush. Sunned skin and moss. Each turn a new vibration. Each flutter. I smell the wood of childhood, the scent of damp lichen breathing its lacy life. When I was a girl I kept my perfect fingernails in a box in my vanity. My red bathing suit felt like my idea of a woman. I could see my chest emerging from its flat landscape. Things I could not name, telltale flicker of bird. My feet bare. It was summer. Some days we didn’t go to the beach, we were bored enough to count cars as they went by, drink from the garden hose’s metallic cold through the hot afternoon. In the bathroom, Jergens stung. My nightgown was a filmy pale ghost that twirled as I spun. I’d read Just So Stories and feel strange moral feelings in my body. I reached for understanding, the words seemed old-fashioned and instructive. Was I the right audience? The book stayed in the summer house and each year I’d read musty pages, damp and warped. The rocker held me fast until I rocked too hard and fell backward. I crashed, hitting my head. The blood that came contained mythology—blue until the air turned it red. I dreamed someday I would buy my own red bathing suit and the chest would rise as high as Farrah Fawcett’s, but in the meantime I’d tuck my knees up under my shirt from my perch on the stairs imagining what I’d like to become—Kipling’s great grey-green greasy Limpopo River rolling through my mind like music. Like a bird I still can’t name, its yellow wings whistling through branches that wind has left to rest where they fell.


Jessica Purdy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, including The Night Heron Barks, Lily Poetry Review, Radar, The Hopper, Feral, and Harpy Hybrid, among others. Her chapbook, Learning the Names, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her books STARLAND and Sleep in a Strange House (a finalist for the NH Literary Award for poetry) were released by Nixes Mate Books.


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