D. R. James
D. R. James’s latest of nine collections are Flip Requiem (Dos Madres, 2020), Surreal Expulsion (Poetry Box, 2019), and If god were gentle (Dos Madres, 2017), and his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at Origami Poems Project. He lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. More of his work may be found here: https://www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage.
If he could think—scarcely
sensation circuits so far—
this would make no sense.
Only hours old
he has had anesthesia
then unmitigated pain,
days of crying alone. What
about that amniotic promise
of new skin on skin,
new mouth on breast,
tiniest brain emboldened
in the formative moments
by a mother and a father,
their faces circling like clouds?
Instead, this duplicity,
If he could he’d predict
this will happen again,
a second surgery to improve
the nose and lip line.
He will be two,
new faces circling
below a bright ceiling
before the black mask, the gas,
before he doesn’t remember.
Big people with big hands
will do this to him and he will
forever after imagine ether.
Days later, alone again
in a sandbox, not yet allowed
to bend his splinted arms, over
and over he will want to touch
where it intermittently throbs,
where it stitches two little pillows,
the swollen flesh shining,
My wife comes home, cold, slides
into bed to warm against my sleepiness,
and sighs. That snow. I drove
through everything. To the toddler
who never walked, and every Friday
for eighteen months beyond predictions,
his slack presence swaddled on the
living room couch. Encephalitis—
nothing wrong with that little heart.
Though the tiny mother’s had broken
long ago, and now her nonstop sobbing,
her husband posted like friendly stone,
the older brothers already back in bed.
She’d held him dead for two hours
before the nurse could carry him outside.
How are you I whisper, my wife’s body
beginning to settle. Always sad for them,
but happy for the baby, who was too big
for the funeral man’s basket, small
enough to stow beside him on the seat.
It all recurs for the maimed, how they remain,
or don’t, atop the plots of the buried. Those
who could do something table the question.
They relax in the rocker of their certainty,
a war, any war, an abstraction that walls off
the bursting specifics. A twenty-something friend
found he’d deployed to sort body parts. Arrayed,
they’d survive the fever sweeping a land we
could never know. Hailed by the white-blue atrium
of a foreign sky, he’d prowl his perimeter
until his duty tapped him. Then the oven-sun
would relight his nightmare, the categories
of bone and flesh his production line. What
achievement could signal his success? What
dream in the meantime could relieve raw nerve?
The perfect tour would end when he was still
in one piece, a nation’s need ignoring the gore
behind the games, the horror nestling into
the still-living because still in one piece.
"Ugly Duckling" was first published in Since Everything Is All I’ve Got (March Street
"Hospice Report" was first published in Caring Magazine (April 2013).
"Still" was first published in Tuck (September 14, 2017).
Sarah Mak is a Singaporean writer who is currently studying Communication Studies at Nanyang Technological University. She is a member of the writing collective zerosleep. In her free time, she enjoys reading wikis of video games that she does not intend to play.
How to Heal
After “When Marnie Was There”
You're here because of the choking in your body.
The choking makes you stay quiet and crack pencils.
In the countryside you see her.
In the countryside you dredge up postmemory and forgotten dances and castles and you remember.
You remember her.
The fresh air did not cure your asthma.
You healed yourself with your grandmother's song.