from NER 41.1 (2020)
And suddenly, expectedly, mothers started
to reach their arms, fists to elbows, down
their children’s mouths and throats, into
the sugar-laden lining of the stomach.
Fathers did, too;
husbands their wives’
their husbands’ throats; sisters their brothers’
their mothers’; and my brothers even reached
into a man on the street with a paper crane.
We’d been told we would find some new
there. We had a notion the insides held answers
to all our untenable questions. A teenager might
go missing for days, so her mother would plunge
down the tongues
of the kid’s friends; the missing
girl’s sister, alone in a bedroom, would choke
on her own crackling elbows, grasping for what
she might have forgotten.
Each time an arm
was pulled out of a mouth, it came coated:
In short, once inside, the limb made a cast
like a silicone mold
of whatever it touched:
Impressions like pink dish-washing gloves
made of blood, guts, and dinner
of the head like a yawn: The coating sloughed
whole off the arm, intact, peeled off as a swim
cap, thick as wax, and wriggling
with rubbery veins.
People would squeeze off these casts and leave
them, indiscriminately, anywhere.
these the branch of an arm for their likenesses
to roots, to the trunks of young trees. Streets
were littered with branches.
In living rooms
people made shelves of the things. Having
been asked through the stomach
I myself grew a crop of unreachable questions.
I phoned Mother, told her I’d be coming home
then got ahold of her spleen and found
nothing. I left her with those first little branches
dripping, inspected, and thrown on the eaves.
I branched out to others: my sister
in Houston thatched casts of her, her husband’s
her little boys’ innards;
sequences of strangers
whose bare-naked knees ground my rug to its stitches
who entered through any obtainable hole
into me for answers and left empty-handed
the veins on their fingers in the cracks of my grin.
I reached out to the preacher but found only wafers
and prison-grade beef.
I littered the drippings
of politicians and recycled a stack of historians’
Of late, I’ve been thinking around
the question of my sensitive lover’s insides.
I haven’t reached often
though I wouldn’t say
never (his fifth and sixth kidneys are swinging
on cords over the sink to dry; I reached deep)—
not lately or again:
We could make us a pact
to prevent reaching, could stitch half our fingers
together, could start fresh from So nice to meet you.
See my lips, how they part like a seed. Listen
as I ask him to balance his fingers on the buds
at the tip of my tongue.
Watch how I trust the gap
in his teeth without seeing whether my fist
might fit through them. We could stop
at the space
at the edge of a lip with the trace of our fathers
stitched into our hides, intestines in circles
that coil round our feet, with the sleeves
of their innards as punctuation
for our pores
their hair in the thick of our skin, we could listen.