The bent-over professor in Ohio
instructed us on the lineage
of the backbone, the triplet,
in his water voice as he dragged
a leg through the door, through the room,
a gravestone in his knuckles.
Buckled to the seat in the inclement
weather, a death’s-head to my left,
its slate eyes on the lines of the verses,
I scanned through
the centuries the lakes,
the tubers I chewed on,
the mornings I rose in the famine,
the bone parts in the bog
where the steam boiled off the flesh
and were raked up like leaves on a Sunday.
The brute pit of his leg
expanded through the odes of the poets,
sprouted into a plant I
could sniff in the stale hour
where the spores were unbreathable
and the windows fluttered in the sun.
The gold fillings that bridged
the gap between decades
I picked out of the mud
like corn out of manure,
I was that hungry.
I strolled in a circle
in a courtyard the color
of sludge, the color of blood,
or was it the blue sky I ingested
and threw up?
He caned his way through the aisles,
one finger in the air where he carved
his initials in the immediate and knocked
wood when his heart took a beat.
I was impenetrable, I could
project myself, I could dominate
air pockets, sing lullabies, smell
echoes in the woods.
I twisted myself rearward,
the moaning in front of
me no longer mattering. I reached out,
touched the tips of the sounds
as if they were maggots, let them crawl
through my wounds to heal them.
He hauled the mudstone of his body after him—
it decomposed in the evening, left
a residue on the sidewalk that no one
scraped up. I, too, stood flat on the stone
and intoned, “I know who I am.”
I drew up a loose chart of the days,
a ledger indicating the amount
I owed each hour. I had no pretense
of my uniqueness. I was culled from
the forest like a slug. I could smell
rebellion in me as it swelled up
in my shoes.