philosophy professor (rewrite)

when he talks to the life insurance agent on the phone,
she questions his propensity for risk:
do you smoke cigarettes? how many drinks
per week? how often do you exercise?

the chalk coated fingers of his left hand start
to finger the toothbrush that lives in the pocket
of his suit jacket.
do you regularly engage in activities like surfing,
downhill skiing, skydiving?
the dark tweed tugged across his shoulders
hides the dampness beneath his arms,
he twists his body as if trying to turn
off a leaky faucet.
would you consider yourself to be a risk taker?
he tugs the neck of his sweater and pulls
at his overgrown eyebrows.

the next day in lecture he tells his students
about his call with the insurance agent.
he dubs himself risk averse, cautious;
he leaves out the unstoppable leaking,
the spasms he feels in his thighs
when he repeats the words sky diving aloud.

sleeping beauty forgotten (edited)

 

two weeks asleep and the skin
has begun to part on leg-backs like
little toothless mouths leaking
onto satin sheets.

three months asleep and now made of mouths:
a chorus of gummy oozing things sucking
at 
the sheets. some start to grin,
flapping 
open like gills gasping.

six months asleep and thigh muscles begin
to dissolve like sugar, hot ’n sticky
mattress stains. bits of tendon settle
into fabric folds, an ulna lays
in pooling liquid like a popsicle stick.

two years ‘neath gossamer garments,
dress dried, draped barren over bones.
still a shadow of the body: dark like syrup.

Rewrite:

she rotates the bag of popcorn so its yawning mouth
is faced away from her own. two popped kernels tumble
onto the table, she pushes them back into the bag
without looking.

the knuckles of her fingers are the widest part
her knees like softballs dropped into socks,
forearms shaped like the bones they hold.

at the end of the night it takes her two tries
to get her backpack up to shoulder height.
when her torso crumbles like sandstone
on the first attempt, the patches of barren scalp
are visible – her hair has begun to fall out,
each strand jumping like the crew
of a burning ship.

blood blisters

a week ago i wrote a poem about a girl turned woman –
the daughter of a friend –
who tugged my hair into neat little rows,
made a 10 year old girl happy because
i didn’t have to wash or brush it for a week.
the pin pricks on my scalp every time she folded
another strand into the braid was a victory,
my striped head the trophy.
some times there were dots like blood blisters
in clusters on her arms,
other times i saw her teeth when she smiled.

five days ago girl turned woman turned corpse.
i pull my own hair to try and remember.
it doesn’t work.
i make one big braid instead of a dozen little ones.
it looks slick with grease, does not save me
a week of washing.

a clot small enough to rest on the end
of my finger stuck in the softness
in her skull, her mother finds her nested
in summer sheets, no dots like blood blisters,
but a baby cradled in the crook of her arm.

Cornrows

the day before they found her baby tucked
into the crawlspace beneath her home for safekeeping,
I sat on the floor in front of her:
knobbed bones of her knees dimpling my back
while she tugged my hair into cornrows,
racing stripes down my little girl skull.
I gnawed my nails to nothing
trying to keep silent with the ouch in my scalp.
sometimes it overflowed out of my mouth.
she laughed like the sound of a coke can cracking,
told me it shouldn’t hurt – she has a daughter,
and mothers understand gentleness.

her body as novel

  1. find her by reference number. or author’s last name. or just run your fingers down each shelf until a cover, color, texture feels familiar. do not open her yet, save the excitement for later. you are the “best for last” type. check her out.
  2. take her to your favorite cafe. lay her across your lap, spread her open – the sound paper touching itself like a note left on your nightstand. don’t talk back. don’t ruin it.
  3. read her parentheticals. search for words you’d find beneath your pillow or on a bottle of red wine. ignore the misplaced commas, smudged ink from hands wet with coffee or sweat.
  4. crease her corners. gently at first, hesitantly – you are scared to bend her in ways you cannot iron out. then, until she is thin to tearing. leave her folded to mark your precious parts. you have many favorites. explain: this is what it feels like to be well loved.
  5. crack her spine. split her down the center, seams unweaving, glue melting from forgotten umbrella. you shove her under you to keep her safe that way. when that fails, leave her beneath the desk lamp to dry. watch her warp with rain and heat.
  6. she is overdue. try to find someone who will take her off your hands: full of lines deeper than your palms, pages wavy with wet, underlined words like “full-bodied” and “unbound.”