The name my mother wanted to call me
meant other, different, strange, babbler, brute.
I turned strange early — electricity
my plaything, books as bricks, teething on fruit
stones and gnawing varnish off planks of wood;
running with bears in my dreams, and naming
my dog for booze, my doll for she who would
never be forgotten (queen of gaming
and floodwaters and wars played out in words).
How curious it is, then, that my name,
my given name, was something else, like birds
embroidered on silk in rare colors, tame,
or rather tamed, forcibly, their wings clipped
so they will roost, sacred chickens on crypts.
The prompt for today was to do a deep delve into one of your names, which absolutely knocked me back, since I’d already done that on day 6! I called that poem “Naming,” so I couldn’t very well call this poem the same thing, but now, with all of this, I’m kind of thinking of them as a pair, even though they are very different.
Last winter when it still hurt to breathe, cold
snapped like a muscle out of shape trying
to do something it can’t, the drywall told
the house it had enough. It was crying
for help that never came. After the thaw,
the drywall dissolved under paint, puffed up,
ballooned, stretched, cracked, and crumbled. Now, worn raw,
the same thing happens to my legs, roughed up,
worked loose from the skin in. Epithelium
fluff and flake, lamina swell and flower
with unusual colors (blush, mauve, medium
plum, faint slate, deep mulberry) counting hours
through barely visible shifts. Hands flicker
over skin, fingers shimmering with glitter.
The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.
NOTE: The NaPoWriMo prompt for today involved using terms from two dictionaries at opposite ends of a cognitive spectrum, a Classical Dictionary (from whence came “hamadryad”) and a Historical Science Fiction Dictionary (from whence came “cold-sleeper”). The form is a somewhat circular variation on the classic Shakespearean sonnet, with the rhyme scheme: abab cdcd dbdb aa.
This novel disfluency of my body,
as it stutters between start and stop, between
up and down, surely appears to be shoddy
engineering: A valve open or closed, clean
when it should be oiled or smudged when it should be
clean, a dial that needs to be tightened a bit
to stay on the intended setting. Go see
if the water pressure holds steady. A split
tube could cause a leak that’ll only get worse.
What if it’s not a hardware problem, what if
something is wrong in the software? Now, don’t curse,
God forbid, troubleshooting is hieroglyphs
crumbling and corrupted until that zing
when it snaps into focus. Check everything.
“Life could not better be,” my song today.
I’ll let Danny belt it out, and whisper
along in the background. “Luckiest girl
on the planet” to follow. What went right?
A day almost like beforetime, when I
could walk if I wanted and still breathe, twirl
as if music is lilting or play twister
and not fall. The luxury of an airway
uncluttered, muscles not withered, and hey,
look at me: hefting cast iron when Mister
Ladyhands feels unwell, lays down, and curls
on the couch, leaving the food prep to blue skies
and me, suddenly able and headstrong,
making noodles with grins and a singalong.
My body has a list of things it wants,
but, being nonverbal, it’s not talking,
and as a commensal being, what haunts
my mouth’s desires might not be what’s rocking
my microbiome’s sweet spot. Get in vogue,
old fogie, croaks my bones, move! My brain blurs
as if someone smeared oil on the windows
of my eyes. It wants sleep, while ears prefer
listening to drums in the dark. My foot
threatens to cramp unless it gets its way
(a bedtime banana), but then the gut
says no, and the bladder echoes hey, hey,
no way are you having a drink at this
time of night. Requests?, I ask. My wrists hiss.
If my skull was a bowl (holes plugged with mud),
it would hold more water than I use now
to wash my entire body, and all my
hair. Of course, there isn’t much of that left,
cut short, shaved in places, my neck so bare
and cold, leaving me shivering. This is
no baptism, no mikveh, no immersion.
This is a rough rag or paper towel dipped
and wrung out, rubbed against skin, and rinsed clear.
Lift the breasts and scrub beneath; the same for
folds of fat that were uncreased a year past.
Nape and neck; behind the ears; root of nose;
breastbone and bellybutton; crotch and crack.
At last, lather the scalp, eyes closed, hot rinse.
You’re not worried about yourself, but you should be.
You’re worried your friend will catch this dread thing from you.
They won’t. That doesn’t mean they are okay. They’re not.
And they won’t be alright. And then they won’t be, and
then there is nothing, nothing you can do, nothing
you can do different. Here — what you should be doing:
You’re not worried about yourself, but you should be.
You should rest. Rest more. Don’t be so surprised. People
want to help. Let them. Eat rainbows. Pinch white cheeks pink.
Look for the hot water bottle now. Bundle up.
Don’t worry about words that got lost. They come back.
Expect no fireworks, swimming suits, ribbons, or wreaths,
but treasure candles. This is your worst and best year.
Live in the now. Write it down. You won’t remember.
I want to tell people about the ghosts, but
who would believe me? The way they throw
jars off the fridge, push pans from the stove. Shut
UP, I yell. My sister says I should blow
smoke around the room, smudge sage or incense.
This is stressing me out. They criticize
pretty much my whole life, and yeah, I’m tense.
They complain about my non-sex life. Guys?
Stay out of my house, and my head. When you
were alive, were you a voyeur? This is
one thousand percent creepy. Damn, they’ve queued
up to watch, to talk about flunked tests, his
leftovers, her starting over. They say
I’ve lost my colors, and life is gone gray.
On this night, she reclines. This is an easy place
to be. The head of the bed is raised precisely
to the angle where her breath flows as easily
as water trickles downhill in thin rivulets.
The foot is also raised, her knees cradled, cushioned.
Life could be worse, than to pass the night while reclined.
Still, this is a hard place to be. Harsh lights erode
any sense of mystery, while puzzles remain
formulaic and vague, shrinking into shadows
at the edges of the room. Throw beauty a bone
with a framed department store poster, flowering
like bruises under her skin. Her mind wandering,
wired-down arms puddle on the mattress (gravity
dense), while x-rays steam open the chest cavity.