The most dear things slip: your newborn soapy and acrobatic, your narrative thread, your foot in the aisle, the first time you bed down with a lover, the first time you rise from that bed. The zeitgeist and weather therein. Slip and go, but are not necessarily lost. They lace in the web just beyond reach. Rooted as we are, each to our node, few options present. Stretching, shrieking, employing magnets, establishing networks. Myself, I jimmy the language. The more I do so, the nearer I pounce.
From another direction, wonder what happens to the word “pucker” when I slip it into a context it hasn’t conventionally occupied. What happens when the line itself slips? What does the reader have to slip on, slip off, to continue reading?
It becomes graphically near. Uncomfortably so, not wholly unattractive.
I’m talking real things. My Captain Caveman yo-yo, my locket of dog’s hair, my first pregnancy. The sensations in my nerves and nethers on certain dank hillsides, in certain dusty rooms at dusk the window frames splintering, trailing off the escalator’s spit. Right now. I’m talking your things too. I’m finding the unidentifiables, and I’m lashing them to my back. It’s a minutiae recovery, by which I don’t mean small, but each.
I’m talking the skin fragments attached to whatever we banish in our fits of abjection. Julia Kristeva envisions the child so disgusted by warm milk’s skin, she will kill off and give up a piece of herself, that is vomit, to purge the offender. Anna Tsing:
In his curing chant, the shaman Awat Kilay…moves on to the perspective
of a fly…A fly can even cross to the place of corpses; it enters the fine bamboo
tube stuck into the earth of a new grave. A fly also sits on the umbilical cord of a new birth…Awat Kilay’s flies and lice are not dirty.
I have been as that fly, but with my human body in tow. I have perched where life comes in and felt precisely the lining of my gut, my esophagus flared. It is not especially uncommon. A little further, we find the slipped figures, unsullied even. This is the way I love you reader.
Iatrogenic, of which these poems are part, is a novel in verse. More or less. In writing these, I owe a debt to Margaret Atwood, Matthew Derby, Donna Haraway, Edgar Lee Masters, and Monique Wittig, among others. A collaborative of women quits our world for a compound of its own making. They conjure and impregnate cyborg surrogates. We hear from the women, the surrogates, and a small band of renegades. Lacunae abound. Sometimes a voice falls in and comes out altered, other times it runs at the bottom of the well. All are perched, maggot visionaries and at the same time most regular.
Who Chose Calamity Jane
I turned my back on the bulb. Though it warm, with leaf,
against my nape red powder burn. Such conversions of food
were beyond me. I took to limb direct that whitened juice.
What a thick feeling on the terrarium floor. What a press
of tiles to my backside and fibers to my calves.
Where was that certain gape from which I first poked
my starry head? Abroad in a vehicle, testing the metal
as it rose to meet the pedal, the foot, the strung leg.
At the pine slab, glass shimmying up to the bottle.
So here I went with my snaggletooth brimming
and my eight-gauge ring strung with probate.
With probable cause.
Wherein a Surrogate Question the Term
You can come too, they said. It was a pressure
their prosthetic would incant, and they to one another,
and then to us, though at very first there was no coming,
no going. So we did not understand
when first they showed us the pig iron. When first
they showed us the stalk with its fine hair a tool
of razing. We could not follow their breadcrumb,
elastic band, thin wrapper discard with the proper
abandon. In other words
for many months we did not move from one containment
to another, but simply assuaged each shell, each shell
as needed, or, ideally as the comfort began to molder.
Wherein a Surrogates Discovers the Gate
I began to produce. My left crop circle glazed
and damp, though the right an oblivious blunder.
A steady drip of white or clear or yellowed nutrition,
depending on the tincture they injected.
When, one morning, I slid the tube from my abdomen,
when I silenced the alarm, I expected to run dry. Instead
I ran a temperature, I ran a formal length of satin
from one pucker to the other, and between them cupped
a measure of stippled juice.
They did not, I think, know in time to stop me. They did,
however, have a bandage at the ready. Have a siphon
and a battery. The sound was as the sound they described
when they remembered the air shows, and the phenomenal
pilots, who would have had, in our amphitheater, to duck.
Who did have a way. A way about them.
The Renegade Garden
I keep them under my tongue, these peels and pith.
What they discard, I arrange. I paralyze, adhere,
magnetize. In the acculturation lab, they label similar
procedures a diagram. I refer to them, the winches
frosting in my grip, the turbine leaking and winking.
In the first I tell the story of the initial severing.
They tell me this story is no longer an element of our
historical register. Still, I arrange the cellophane ribbon,
the thermometer’s digits, the pang from the butterfly
suture. Here, in the latex glove, I have placed five eggs.
Who Chose Maya Deren
On the day I hopped the wall, the perforations in my ears,
eyebrow, lip, navel, septum seared. Sealed, became pockets,
then filled to pockmarks. The rings and bars, my fossils.
Were I a pterodactyl, span embedded in the concrete,
my extinction might have been entirely confirmed.
I clambered. I scaled the wall without forethought. For who
thought that would be my last day? My summer cotton yellow
voile rose, plastic cat’s eyes, thick bead choke.
On the day I leapt the wall, my printed pang preceded me.
What little pocket change I had slipped out in the scuffle,
rained down into the trench that runs alongside the mortar.
Were I to go back. Surely the trench. My slick coins, needle
threadbare. My own, with her arms just so, her recognition just.
Wherein a Surrogate Notes the Passage
Though we were not built for allegiance, not built
for speed or two, I was to her closer than the others.
We were of a piece in our clip and wither. I tapped her neck
and wore around mine the same glass hazard, the same rigged
scream of chance.
In the cabinet, there was a depiction of mirror image.
They cautioned us, the double vein. In the first slide,
a knee skinned, and in the second a second knee revised.
In such, I knew her to be. When the midwife came, scalpel
and gloom, I too felt the drop. The glum and heft of no such luck.
Wherein a Surrogate’s Fixing
In the stitchery, where they’d removed her, first one ocular X
then the next. It was custom, they said. They darned the body pocket.
All this for the ash can. But it must mete out in order. First
the craggy thread, then the glaze. In her palm, they embedded
twelve daubs. Mercury, marcasite, graphite, geranium. They slit
her heel to calf, cubital flaring. Spread and flecked. A wisened
caramel. Her pores were close, her nostrils plugged. They wound
her hair around the gibbous spindle.
When finally we were to approach, when finally the table reared.
With my fist I made the gesture of a pebble slipped. I placed
my toe on the Dictaphone’s pedal. Who could know what gush
of breath would precede her? Swift loft, the pension imploding.
Wherein a Surrogate’s Cessation
To her viewing, each brought a copy face and fitted it such.
Over hers. Joined and settled the pucker. I made as an animal
low on fours at the sight under flame. I rang the keen
to its utmost trill, skating the beam, what they clearly
once knew as a blackbird.
Shawl shrunk and laced with vegetation, her hands as paws
and in them a hunk of currency. Already, sterile jars
lined the acculturation lab. To each a calcification would be born.
Rather a fragment, and borne.
For all the attachment you knew, I might have asked them,
did you ever once distribute the bone?
At last, though, I rang beyond the octave and fathomed
a draught of glass. What they refer to as a devotion.
Who Chose Joan Crawford
You must learn to fall gracefully down
the bleached staircase . So I had. So
had I also learned to ice my first face,
to preserve my second face with a strap
and measure. A vodka tonic toned
my innermost muscle. A sinew belt
lisped lithe lithe in the most wee hour.
So perfect was I. Then, what had me gnawing,
hands and knees, at the fuchsia? What begged
scour once more? What martini glass
floated, flew, and mangled on the ever-burning,
ever-loving kindle? Those metallic pinecones,
so much statuary, but in the blaze, extra-planetary.
I left that world, trailing the rope-worn melody.
Home is where you hang, where you hang, where
you hang your hat.
The Renegade Garden 2
I took from the cabinet two of their metal
rejoinders. There was a time they said, it was
an age they said, wherein these maws petrified.
With a crank, one positioned. With a fussing
of many half done gowns.
With an angled pipe and pivot gleaming.
I saw them warm to it, saw them tussle.
In a quiet way, I’d managed their bleat. Always
covering my grizzle. My leavings.
And from the medicinal pantry, a quilting.
This batting does justice. I crow the precision,
I convert each brittle plug.
Who Chose Marguerite Gautier
Neatly clipped the zinging wire, and I was a’sea.
It was my last in that world. Later, when wickered
in the corner, I would almost regret the ripe
citrus gag, but for some hours, I was just the bow’s
own bend. Not want or the skin of the milk.
Recoil or the gilded market creams.
Fringed parasol, I tucked my charcoal lengthwise.
The thin plastic lung proceeded. Its albescent
wiles. Regarding the message, my handwritten
assent. But in the gloaming I could only manage
Despite the scant regret unfolding. As the fingers,
the people under church, and its steeple.