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.
Each light she touches turns to blue: turquoise,
iris, steel, sky. She glows with blue, haloed
with color against the night, fingers poised
and playing fusion of jazz and shadow
on piano keys transparent as glass, ice.
Each note is a chime past human hearing,
and the measure to which she dances flies
through interstellar space, disappearing
into dust and memories, then spinning
back to life not as lost as we believed,
in the end become in the beginning,
a change of time, a change of place, she breathes
and sings, half clarinet and half cello,
the blues whirling inside her, still indigo.
Did the fire in my brain come before or after the fire
in my mouth? My mother will never tell, and the records
have all been lost. All we know is there was burning, a pyre,
nerves gone haywire; we know there was a scream, a cry, a cord
anchoring one end of a wire at a fixed place, flashpoint
channeled from this, here, toward infinite possibility.
And there are scars. Of course there are scars. Even at knifepoint,
when the scars are cut away, new scars come. Serenity
comes with disregarding the scars, the old face, the new face,
whatever. I’m usually not the one who has to look
at it. I live behind the face and forget what’s erased,
what’s seen. I forget my hair is blue, that my smile is crooked
to one side, as if wryly amused. When you look at me,
I look back. When you smile, I smile, too, happy to be seen.
The moon tonight is shaped like a spoon, cradling a droplet
of dark, heavy and solid. At sea, the weeds pump themselves
full of air, floating lighter than water, are carried by
currents helping them move from here to there, from this to that.
The weeds are called wrack — beach wrack, rock wrack, toothed wrack, bladder wrack —
as if they are wracked with guilt, pain, sobs, grief. I was sobbing
tonight, again, with grief that comes and goes like tides, holding
me back or holding me up, I don’t know. The tides lift up
the sea’s air bladders and shift them gently, in currents slow
and strange, like water dirigibles, trailing messages.
On land, the idea of the bladder flips and inverts,
carrying liquid, like a wineskin, sloshing or flaccid.
A bladder is feminine in French: la vessie est plein.
Let us speak plainly. In English, bladder is gender neutral.