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Nicky Beer

08-22-08

Avuncularity

 

Every child ought to have a dead uncle.

There should be only one surviving photograph,

or else a handful of epochal snapshots

where the face is always blurred, in half-light,

or otherwise indistinct.  Much can be made of

the raised glass in his hand and the quirked

corners of his smile.  And who was that girl

standing with him?  Ellie?  Jean?  No, the one

from Pittsburgh with the dogs.

You hadn't been born then anyway . . .

This is the one whose fault it can be:

the slight warps, the spider-cracks in your speech,

the explanation for all of the wrongness

that made the other children pause, assess you

a little coldly and pull back as one toward the playground.

Why all of the strange words seem to rise

from your tongue like damp, nocturnal creatures

into an unwelcoming light.  Why you insist

on that turd-brown jacket that smells like

a musty fruitcake.  Why that one thumbnail

is always gnawed to a puffed red crescent. 

This man will be your phantom limb,

the thing once flesh, thrust into absence,

now living as a restless pricking under your skin,

that inward itching, that impossible,

inescapable rue fretting to itself,

the way the mouth tries to form urgent words

in a dream. And you'll take out that picture

so that your eyes can retrace the details:

red shirt, a vague mess of books

and cards on the table, half of one silver

aluminum can, a bright nova hovering

over his left shoulder as though something

has chosen that moment to rush into his body.

See, see there, his buttons are done

wrong.  He must have forgotten things

all the time, just like you.

 

My Mother is a Small Submarine

 

The hospital room at night

is the bottom of the ocean.

Knotted lengths of clear kelp

tether her to the bed,

 

and the electric thread of her heart

on the screen becomes a restless eel

questing the coral fan

of the horizontal blinds' shadow. 

 

A half-dozen lionfish,

spines bright with toxins,

have the slow drift of deflating

helium balloons, their sides

inscribed with the rueful maxim

Love Me, Love My Danger. 

 

She clicks the morphine drip,

counting off fathoms.

By dawn, a whale the size

of a housecat will have nestled itself

 

in the crook of her arm,

conjuring a song

she'll follow into a lightless trench,

a doorstep to the center of the earth.

 

-from The Diminishing House