American Immortal by Alison Rollins


On Hart Island, I panhandle purgatory’s sandbox.
            In search of the dead, I rifle through the remains.
What remains to be seen is divine comedy, Dante
            as he climbs the mount with Beatrice now in place
of Virgil. Men know very little about the beginning
            of the end. You live only as long as the last person
who remembers you. I, the mother of the meek,
            seek out the forgotten so that they might be born
again. Annihilation is an existential fear. Do you
            believe in life everlasting? Do you believe in
the resurrection? I stand above your corpse, marvel
            at the fanciful labor: black ants wash the bowls of
your eye sockets clean, flies rub their legs in the heart-
            shaped cavity of what was once your nose, maggots
dangle like crystals from your chandelier skull.
            I send them away from your bedside. I dust off
your sternum, ribs, and femur. My tool of choice
            a brush fashioned from the hair of Geronimo’s horse.
I, the creator, am housed in death’s three-story womb.
            Birth is a moment of loss, the loss of all other forms
the begotten might have taken. Life and death, two sides
            of the same coin pulled from behind your wet ear.
Time has eaten away your name, your pronouns ghosts
            in a shell. You were never meant to know death,
only to be acquainted with life. I lay your bones across my lap
            like a quilt, adhere skin like a flag draped over a soldier’s
casket, return genitals to their native land, cross-stitch
            a tongue into the cave of your mouth. I, the angel
of bread, have come to break you off, to set the record straight.
            There is no god who breathes into your nostrils
that you might be filled with life. It is not milk-breath
            but blood, your teeth drawn to my breast. You suckle
at death’s purple nipple. You drink until you are forever
            full. Once inflated like a red balloon, I say to you, Rise.
Take up thy body and walk. Indebted, you kiss my legs
            in thanksgiving, beg to know how you could ever repay me.
I tell you it is simple as this: you shall place no other gods before me,
            you shall revere the ones who bleed and do not die.
Do this in memory of me.


Alison C. Rollins, born and raised in St. Louis city, currently works as a Reference & Instruction Librarian for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the second prizewinner of the 2016 James H. Nash Poetry contest and a finalist for the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Meridian, Missouri Review, The Offing, Poetry, The Poetry Review, River Styx, Solstice, TriQuarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Vinyl, and elsewhere. A Cave Canem and Callaloo Fellow, she is also a 2016 recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship.