from Girls' School

Claudia Emerson

The Physical Plant as Prologue

Everything here measures: weight, effort, sin— and everything costs in this seclusion of daughters, the place an ark—its hold all of a kind in an archaic, combed order: straightened teeth, trained spines, the chapel’s benches in rigid rows before crimson kneeling pillows, slim beds in dormitories, the muted ticking of practice rooms, the stalls just-mucked, the halls humid with breathing. And in the brushes, their hair—enough to line the nests of a hundred generations of birds.

Fire Drill

Bells sound them from sleep, and their imaginations rise, recite all they have been told: the curtains on fire, the beds, nightgowns, their hair, their hair. They’ve practiced this escape before and know to close the windows last, descend the darkened flights of stairs in practiced wordlessness to line up, barefoot, on the dew-wet lawn, face the building, pretend to watch it burn.

Beginning Sculpture: The Subtractive Method

The girls sit before the assignment—identical blocks of salt—and from tall, precarious stools, look down into blank planes of possibility. In the end, though, the only choice is to carve something smaller. So they begin. Rough chunks like hail fall before the rasps and chisels’ beveled edges. Salt permeates this air as it has for years, the floor gritty, their hands, eyes, even the skylights made opaque with it— disappearing not unlike the way it is subtracted from similar blocks, in the fields, before the tongues of the horses.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro


CLAUDIA EMERSON is author of Pharaoh, Pharaoh (LSU, 1997), Pinion: An Elegy (LSU, 2002), and the forthcoming collection from LSU Press, Late Wife. She has been awarded individual artist’s fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. She is Associate Professor of English at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.