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Cortney Davis


Nunca Tu Alma

I turn my eyes form the girls' thin bodies

in Sarajevo and from the corpses that float downriver
like matchsticks, but here in the clinic
I sit with Maya—a twelve year old, raped
by her sisters' friend— who asks me Am I still a virgin?
I examine her crimson vagina. Three
delicate tears lace her perineum, as if Maya
has had a rough delivery.
I culture for GC, chlamydia, draw blood
for pregnancy, HIV.
Am I still a virgin? she asks, her voice disembodied
above her knees, bent and open,
her hips narrow as a boy's beneath the sheet.
I struggle with mechanical/emotional, consider
the penis as metaphor. When we're finished,
Maya and I lean close, face to face.
Virginity is a matter of love, I say, when you give yourself
out of joy. Rape takes only your body, never your soul.
Maya nods, repeats this in Spanish
to her mother and sister, three dark women
singing like birds. Maya imitates me, her fist
strikes her palm. Nunca, nunca tu alma.
Her tests are negative.
Maya's more like thirty than twelve,
the nurse whispers, and I agree.
I crumple her sheet and dump the bloody swabs.
Shove the metal stirrups into the table, out of site.

How I'm able to Love 

I’m stunned by death’s absence,
by the flesh that remains, changed and yet hardly so.
I try to pretend the body’s a pod or insect shell,
but attending the body after death

I see the body with all its attributions
for the first time, totally honest—
a time to satisfy that final curiosity,
the long gaze that reveals a life compressed, unalterable.

Beyond the window, rain falls. Streets below
shine like an untied black ribbon.
When my mother died, I was the one
part nurse, part daughter. I caught her last heartbeat

with my fingertips, knowing that the lungs
fail a few beats after, then breath empties them.
From long experience, I stood at the moment
just before and stroked her hair

as life moved through her as it always does—
pulling itself up through the ankles
through the bruised aorta
taking the heartbeat along, gathering the last

lungful of air and leaving nothing, all this
up through the jaw and, at the moment life breaks free,
out the open eyes. The hands respond,
as if the body wasn’t robbed, but had been clinging and let go.

I don’t believe in death.
Even when the body mottles, even
in its closed casket, I see the body I have touched,
staring at it as I work. Only my fingers

retain the memory
of my memory. This compression is good:
it makes room for all the dead I know and don’t know—
the familiar dead and the dead yet to be born.

                   -from Leopold's Maneuvers