The first is a new series — part of a collection of raw, straight-from-the-shoulder poems tentatively entitled “His Life Dithyrambic” — as I revisit my life up to this point, its pains, traumas, pleasures, and good fortunes.
The attending illustration is a self-portrait done roughly a year ago, originally to the prompt “Unbreakable,” and seemed complementary to the verse’s central conceit, since it details actual incisions, wounds, punctures, and blunt traumas that I’ve experienced at the mercy of nature, myself, and other people.
This piece is unusual for me for lacking a regimented meter and end rhyme scheme, while featuring more internal rhymes, consonance, and countless enjambments.
Listless I lie, an underwhelming lump,
Racked as they pump, turn, and tighten,
Stretch me firm, and taut, and tender,
Wan limbed, blood pooling to the center.
Across this bedstead of their piercing love,
My lithe and naked, hairless torso hung,
So young, between the posts of expectation
And inheritance. I look with cowardice upon
Their instrument array: the tray of blades,
the bowl, the bone-saw, the vessel for my soul.
And though I wish to weep, I will not weep,
I will not let a tear to stream, purple my cheek,
I will not let their love be satisfied by this
One last part of me: They cannot have my grief!
They can demarcate my limbs with dotted lines,
And trace the shape of me that they would nip,
And tuck, and sever off, and fold; like origami
Boxes, into which the rest they mold to fit.
For them a pretty, emptied cavity to fill; or rag
To sop up all the unpent liquid love they spill.
I hold their eyes in mine, unflinching stare,
Pretend that I am not about to die,
Unanesthetized, and too aware of every pore, each
Strand exposed beneath an incandescent contumely.
The lancet slits into my soft, pubescing flesh
And teases out each filament from fiber,
And nerve from hope and ligament from bone.
Hope only that they leave some little part uncut.
But no, strip down and flay the altar of its skin,
And grave from its bold unity the image of their god,
A god who only lives ensnared in mirrors.
I faint, come to. (I’ve flinched.) Recoiling, scream
With blood-slicked body reeling in the air. I rock
The pillars and the chains; moan and curse their
Tortured hearts and torturing hands. But am too weak
To long resist the blows that beat me back and seize
Me fast, bound into place to soothe my throes.
These surgeons for my sin, they run their palms across
My breast, down my cheek, through my hair, and
Whisper, “Do not despair, for we know best how best to care.”
These my attendants take their stock. I recompose
Myself and grit my heart. They touch my brokenness
And knead my guts, probe me for masses; some cystic
Tangle or worse, something more congenital, perverse.
They pinch, massage, and rearrange my loins.
I wince at forceful fingers plucking sinews,
rapping bones, the shame of all of me to them like clay.
Naught there amiss to find, undaunted ply their tool
Of last resort: sway with seen and sawn serrations;
Rip adipose, striated thews, chew finally to osseous armature and through.
’Til onward past this gore of love they find
What their small hearts have sought, so earnest:
A lover who’ll fit well within four posts.
Who limbless, impotent compels their unctions:
“Anoint my emptied sockets, tongueless mouth,
Drip oil from amputated arms, legs, ears, and snout;
And, finally, that place between the hips
That was, too disjointedly concupiscent, shorn free,
In chrism toss to save my soul from me
And to, at last, be lovable to Thee.”