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Elizabeth Jacobson: There are as Many Songs in the World as Branches of Coral

I walk a long way

sinking in soft sand.

My feet, two creatures

of burden.

Low lying clouds

mirror stormy ocean waves

and wild eddies.

The wrack line

littered with elkhorn

with coral sponges—

each one a finger

from a different hand.


are the reefs

they arose from.

As a child

I combed black rocks of a jetty

prying starfish from pools

sucked salt

off their legs,

curious podia searching

my tongue. 

I craved also

the taste of ash

ate cigarette butts

from the beach—

put anything in my mouth

to know it.


I was nine

when I first saw the photographs—

bodies overflowing

from wheelbarrows.

Corpses pitched

in heaps like firewood

at the sides of barracks.

Didn't recognize what they were.

Then I noticed the bird,

a raven,


the inside of a human nose.


There are as many songs in the world

as branches of coral.

The sponges

the sea pens,

the whips,

have a bloody

earthy smell.

I lay the few I’ve collected

on a wicker table to dry

under the adonidia palms

and squeeze out the remaining brine.

Soon they begin to sigh.


These hours

when the sky is white

my heart reels

like a cay in a squall

and I arrive again

at the scowl

of the red brick gate.

There were no clouds

that day, above the camp.

The grassy fields

bright green.

Tall birches

in full leaf.

I walked weightlessly

on the train tracks,

one foot

in front of the other

balancing on rails.

I pulled a rusty hair pin

from the soil

put it in my mouth—

75-year-old tarnish

a perfumed

female essence.

The remaining brick

chimneys crumbling,

splintered garrisons—

burial pits moaned—

here was an endless landscape

of hatred this primeval—

it was as if I saw

each soul

who had arrived and




in the emerald fields.

And everything

broke open

and sang.


There were no clouds

that day

I visited Birkenau,

but the sky,

it was white.

The meadows,

they glistened,

the tall birches,


Before I left

I ate a few blades of grass—

peeled off a strip of bark

pressed two sharp stones

into my well-made shoe.

Elizabeth Jacobson was the fifth Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico and an Academy of American Poets 2020 Poets Laureate Fellow.  Her most recent book, Not into the Blossoms and Not into the Air, won the New Measure Poetry Prize, selected by Marianne Boruch (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2019), and the 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for both New Mexico Poetry and Best New Mexico Book. 

Copyright 2021 Elizabeth Jacobson. First published in the Ginko Prize, 2021.

5 comments on “Elizabeth Jacobson: There are as Many Songs in the World as Branches of Coral

  1. Lynne Burnett
    July 15, 2021

    You say this difficult thing in a way I can hold it and yet also hear the songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elizabeth J
    July 15, 2021

    Thank you, Barbara!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. robert okaji
    July 14, 2021


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Barbara Huntington
    July 14, 2021

    Beautiful. I have yet to write about my visits to the camps in Poland. I can never find words that deep. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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