The Burial of Emilie Neumann Muse
They lowered Emilie into the earth
with ninety-seven hours worth of water
and a depthless chill. The coffin was walled in glass
so she could see the shovels spill their dirt,
burying her with just a slender pipe
run up to the surface for air. She could hear
the brass band playing, the couples dancing, people
dead on their feet into the second day
of the marathon. It was 1932,
late fall; already she had swum Hell Gate,
wrestled alligators, parachuted
onto targets at carnivals and fairs
where ever they’d have her. When Jim suggested this,
she agreed, as she had with almost everything —
another stunt to put her face in the papers
and prove that those years of possibilities
were not yet over, that anything could happen.
But still, as the darkness and the smell of dirt
closed around her, bound within her box,
the air becoming terror-hot, what thoughts
whispered themselves to her? English, German,
bass drum, hard-heeled shoes, the Reading trains,
the traffic—black hearts beating through the earth
to mask from her her absence from the world
that might, at any moment, forget she lived
and leave her there in that nothing grip, near panic,
singing to herself so that what sounds
she heard she could hear clearly.  Hours passed,
unknowable but borne, and still the blare
of a distant trumpet, singing her to sleep,
singing her awake. Four days and an hour
interred before she heard the shovels speak
the words of resurrection. As they lifted
her windowed coffin, dancers, band, spectators
applauded. There she was—girl Emilie,
hunger-weak, light-blinded, still alive
and strong enough to step out of her grave
and wave to them, twenty-eight years old,
gone impossibly far and then come back.
She told them all it hadn’t been as bad
as they’d imagined, though nobody believed her.
She let herself be buried several times, 
for smaller crowds and shorter stretches, until,
after a few more years of stunts and shows,
she married a man named Muse and loved him, left 
the daredevil life to raise her children, to whom 
she didn’t say a word about the risks 
she took, the feats performed, the several deaths 
she could have died. Like any worried mother, 
she feared that they would follow into danger,
giving themselves to chance. It wasn’t until 
they had grown and settled in their safer lives
that they heard the stories of their mother’s youth:
flying with Alligator Jim, swimming
around Manhattan, being buried alive.
American Persephone, the girl
who went into the ground, alone and lovely,
and rose again, alone and beautiful,
over and over. Even through those years
of bearing children, keeping bees, cleaning
the old Long Island home, she kept a bit
of that blackness in her body, boxed inside
her aging heart, both memory and promise.
And when, at ninety-eight, after all
those quiet decades—neither dull nor wild;
contented, mostly—she faced again that depth,
lowering herself, she saw a girl
rising up to meet her, slim and pretty
in a cotton dress, singing beneath her breath.
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