No elegant beginnings for me. It’s February
and down the street a Christmas wreath
clings to brick siding. I’m riding out
beginnings—bruised chest & belly. A February
countdown to chemo cocktails. Steri-strips
cling to my skin’s incisions like dirty siding—I’m riding out
this need to be chipper, the way I must
count days since diagnosis, repeat my birth date, strip
my body for surgeons who shake hands, make jokes,
snip away muscle and submucosa. I must
please, be a good sport, when in Versed haze I think
my body should be circled by surgeons who hold their hands
at my perimeter and chant light as a feather until
I levitate like a good sport at a slumber party. I think
if some animal, huge and mute, appeared
at the perimeter of the post-op hallway and lifted me, light as a feather,
I might be cured. I’d sleep in one of its arms while the other
batted away mute scalpels and earnest third-year residents. Claws would appear
to shred IV bags, frighten phlebotomists. Sound asleep, I’d know nothing.
I might be cured, curled in the matted fur of its arms.
My scarred skin falls away like dirty snow, a dropped wreath
as the beast lurches to the woods. Sound asleep, I know nothing
but the elegant measure of its breath.
You’re calling from a cave
the ways you’re hoping to be found—
soon unmarked wrapped in a handful of air.
Blooming, fairly lustrous from your polishing
by stones, you’re wondering
how dead must I be for my bones to show,
for my fingers tingling to tempt
beetles to my knuckles a bridge through common dirt?
You know you’re not alive, in that remembered
sense of the word but still, you could emerge,
learning dance steps as you go, lingering
in the heat, singing to the trees, wandering
the battered streets until a winding sheet appears—
you spin into it, a raffish partner
anticipating your hesitant steps.
Your flesh was loose, thin—
clementine skin on a skeleton,
willing to stretch
the distance of one fingerprint’s press,
willing to adjust
against a palm, subdued lust
sticking like pith to your thigh bone, elbow.
You weren’t dying (what a way to go, though,
really—every touch a whole,
dried clove piercing the peel, those
fingers covered with spice and juice) but preserved.
Hovering above your shambling skin,
a carapace of others’ hands and limbs—
eye squint in the afternoon, a languid, stuttered word.
We awoke to rescued
the neighbors’ dogs
tracking the tabby
the backyard’s contested
downstairs, we saw
our doors wide
open in the night.
A cricket card party
circled the welcome mat.
Bats issued invitations
for a tealess tea dance,
to unsung ceiling corners.
checked in, weak-winged
on their way to Peru.
Of the flue,
they chippered, five stars!
We all need
fame and misfortune—
a walk on that narrowed
view of the moon
or a dose of memory
like the forecast of rain.
Even at arrival,
our guests mapped
how they’d leave.
A raccoon asked directions
to the Wilderness Road.
Turn at the shagbark hickory?
Why are you wearing clothes?
The animals ushered
us outside, told us,
Dance naked for a while—
you’re being watched.
Are you farmers,
laborers, or riflemen?
In the light of planets
we felt something strong—
blaring music, rocks
aflame toward dawn.
Our feet tangled
in tree roots.
elbows and shins.
Our hearts fell
from our chests,
I leaned you
against a tree
and we kissed,
Back at the house
the bats hushed,
It’s nearly time.
I know it’s famous,
but I told them all:
Take the new highway.
Leave that old road to the goats.
Under Wasena Bridge
Exploded silver scales
halo two sleek fish
dead on cement, beyond
of Roanoke’s corroded river.
How did these lost bodies—
eyes intact, bellies absent,
not gutted, but cut
in a clear circle, hole-punched—
end up under Wasena Bridge
near a bent, spent jack of spades
near skateboard wheels, near
grass blades and beer glass?
After all the ruckus, how do any of us
end up the places our bodies take us?
Meighan L. Sharp writes from Roanoke, Virginia. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Plume, Crazyhorse, The Florida Review, Best New Poets 2010, Cimarron Review, and Best New Poets 2013. Anything can happen. But you already know that.