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Free Verse: Jill Alexander Essbaum

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 13, 2012 - The worst happens at 4 a.m. -- robberies, food poisoning, drunk dialing, car alarms, insomnia, darkest darkness before dawn. In this break-up poem, the rhymes chime louder as the speaker draws nearer the cock’s crow.

"4:13 am" by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The shift of sleepwalks and suicides.
The occasion of owls and a demi-lune fog.
Even God has nodded off

And won't be taking prayers til ten.
Ad interim, you put them on.  
As if your wants could keep you warm.

As if. You say your shibboleths.
You thumb your beads. You scry the glass.
Night creeps to its precipice

And the broken rim of reason breaks
Again. An obsidian sky betrays you.
Every serrate shadow flays you.

Soon enough, the crow will caw.
The cock will crow. The door will close.
(He isn't coming back, you know.)

And so wee, wet hours of grief relent.  
In thirty years you might forget
Precisely how tonight's pain felt.

And in whose black house you dwelt.

Originally appeared in Poetry, June 2008.

Jill Alexander Essbaum appears at 7:30 p.m., Mon., April 16 at the River Styx poetry reading at Duff's restaurant, 392 North Euclid in the Central West. Admission: $3-$5. Click here for more information.

Essbaum is a Christian erotic poet distinguished as the author of the 1999 Bakeless Prize winner in poetry, “Heaven,” the 2005 collection of sonnets, “Oh Forbidden,: and the full length collections “Harlot” (No Tell Books, 2007) and “Necropolis” (neoNuma Arts, Spring 2008). She has described herself as “nettled and hectored by a good dozen obsessions -- more, probably. There are but three that ultimately matter to me (maybe to anyone): God, sex, death. Anything worthwhile I've ever thought or said will be about those things.” She currently teaches at the University of California Riverside Palm Desert Graduate Center in the masters of creative writing graduate program.

Richard Newman, River Styx editor for 15 years, is the author of two full-length poetry collections, "Borrowed Towns" and "Domestic Fugues." He also co-directs the River Styx at Duff's reading series.

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