One of the side effects is a tenderness of the tongue. Hearing this I envision a swelling of the organ accompanied by abrasions and continual bleeding. A little white dog threads through my vision.
You always served us soft-boiled eggs in egg cups. I remember this from childhood. Over time the roosters have diminished, their feathers less jaunty, combs faded from continual use. Where the paint has chipped the ceramic shows through, the color of an unwashed tooth.
The undiminished pleasure of taking the back of a spoon and cracking the smooth continuous surface of an egg. I used to have skin like this you say, cupping your hand against my cheek.
To expose the lungs make a single incision from clavicle to sternum then draw the scalpel in opposite directions toward the heart and lower border of right lung.
Watching the little white dog run along the edge of the lake I think of you. There are patches of skin where the fur has fallen out and though it is shivering they say it’s not cold just a rare genetic condition.
From the dock I watch the lake seize and thrust forward each time losing itself on the shore. There’s something impossibly melancholy about this continual losing.
The beach extends in both directions beyond my field of vision. Its surface slanted every which way breaking the face of the sun into bright mirrors. As if it were a body loosed from its form.
The little dog picks its way across the pebbly beach. Breaking the waves with her body. Her fur glints across the water, a startling white against the lake’s dull patina.
Go on I say as dark water seeps up my pants. I am shivering in my clothes. No sound but the aspen leaves shifting in the wind yes no yes no.
There is nothing left to be done. Endless, the ways of not knowing. Only one certainty which is that we are losing you one day at a time.
We’re all a little afraid says the voice on the line. I am only half listening. The other half is running into the lake past empty vodka bottles a ruined baseball hat and what look like tiny oyster shells strewn across the beach.
Where Poems Come From
Could be from under a duck’s wing, feathers
speckled with flecks of light sifted through trees.
Or from the duck itself, muddy brown, eddying
along the pond’s edge. Camouflage, as in camoufler,
to disguise. Or camouflet, a whiff of smoke. You saw
it first, when we walked into the netted aviary
empty of people, lush with ferns and a footpath
that led up steps to a bridge. Mottled brown,
dabbling on the surface, head dipping in and out
of the water, scarcely distinguishable from foliage.
Duck, I said and pointed and quacked and, like that,
it was gone. What is a thing before it is a thing?
Green-winged teal. How language dawns slowly,
then all at once, perception matched to meaning.
The tiny eye opening and closing; dry, whitish lid
working up and down from the bottom, reptile-
like, feathers forming neat, interlocking scales
of grey-brown, disguised as to be nearly invisible.
This isn’t really about a duck. Or the pointing,
the naming. The point is that I was there, saw
you seeing this creature for the first time—you,
motionless on the footbridge, water moving
below your feet, little eddies of light and motion
carrying bits of decomposing leaves and twigs,
debris from forest floor. Every day you make some
new utterance—ball, more, meow—closing the space
between the world you live in and your name for it.
To feel a thing before knowing it. Surprise. Hunger.
Spoon. Life a haze of felt thought. Or maybe not.
Maybe this is just about the duck—you, me,
the dappled afternoon. That tender, wrecked moment
before the duck was a duck, before it was anything
but a whiff of smoke, light thrown across the water,
which all of us were, once. Once time you saw a duck
on a pond, a green-winged teal, and it was the first
time such a thing had ever existed, light startling
off its back as it slid noiselessly across the water,
bill riffling under the surface, turning this way
and that, searching for something to eat, something
we could not see but knew all the same was there.