People say Just look at her hem coming down and no slip black panties You’d think she’d know better talking about the only unwed mother in Damascus Ocie Mersing worse than nobody worse than trash You’d think she were the devil himself You’d think she were Chimera Greek firebreathing female lion goat serpent shegoat shesnake monster shebeast O Ocie get your hem down to the ground girl Let it sweep the floor and hide your cloven hoofs But what woman doesn’t breathe fire answer me What woman do the mountains not hem in so she can’t breathe anything but fire and live with it except I don’t I refuse I go down to Heather Run and reach in the water for breath like the bleeder woman reached out of the horde for the hem of Christ’s dress and it healed her except she knew better than to touch his holy skin with her unholy blood just his hem But what blood is unholy answer me I’d have touched his skin like I touch creek and touch sap this shimmer round the tree vault tap it free and smear the twigs to light on fire for the fish I bait hooks with oats brown sugar and soybean meal and tie up my dress at the waist and wade so to not get the hem black wet not yet with the creeping soak of Heather Run legs bare the water white and brown then honey and tin with gills tail fin fast and loose till the line tugs Come eat Ocie Come eat at my fish fry with your babies and we’ll rake our toes to cloud the pool in Heather Run and untie our dresses let our hems come down into fray to drink up the black rich water like lungs gulp air
A West Virginia native, Jessie van Eerden holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She was selected as the 2007-08 Milton Fellow at Image and Seattle Pacific University for work on her first novel, Glorybound (WordFarm, September 2012). Her prose has appeared in The Oxford American, River Teeth, Bellingham Review and other publications. Her essays have been selected for inclusion in Best American Spiritual Writing and Sarabande’ Book’s forthcoming Red Holler: An Anthology of Contemporary Appalachian Literature. Jessie directs the low-residency MFA program of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Literary Editor: John E. Branscum