Outside the gates of the Jewish cemetery, by Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer


cumulus congestus.
Bottle glass, cigarillos, sparrows fighting over Cheetos.
Things pile up.

Turn-of-the-last-century stones set cheek by jowl:
Mandel, Lillie, Tillie, Lester.
So many children.

Every day, I read their names from the road.

One stone set by a scrubby pine abuts
the unfilled field.

I follow the rough stone wall to the bridge across the river,
where the run-off from the Sho-Off car wash
is the only thing that makes the water ripple.

In the bluish pool of light, three female mallards.
Glinting, violet speculums.

In the field, a grave in progress.
It has been like this for days.

B’nai Amoona, Children of Faith,
I think I have nothing for you.

I am constantly right here
in short sleeves, on Shabbat, with my headphones, standing on this wall.

Why am I standing on this wall?

To the mound of opened earth, I sing
whatever song comes through— Tori Amos—We’re in the Wrong Band,
and I mean it, let’s be sincere, it’s important, I’m serious, I think that it’s time.

I sing against the limestone
you know that I’m drowning.

I sing into the mortar joints the noise of the water.
I sing into the illusion of the woods.

It pours, and I sing myself a raincoat.

The Mylar star balloon keeps deflating
in the black walnuts, the same way

the little-g god of the water
keeps drifting at me,

or the littler bird,
singing from the lamb on the littlest stone.

Something in its orange breast explodes.


Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. Her debut collection, Cleavemark, is just out from BOAAT Press. Schlaifer’s poems have appeared in Georgia Review, AGNI, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Fence, and elsewhere, and she was selected for Best New Poets 2015. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Jeff Pike on the illustrated chapbook, Strangers with a Lifeboat, and with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation “Cleavemark Drive.”