Jennifer Sperry Steinorth
O Ants, delicate Ants, undertaking cardinal pilgrimage,
crossing sand-colored floors, up wall, to our unwashed china—
You chain so fine a necklace, I
admit it, I am entranced.
It is a vulgar word. Primitive lineage?— I ought not mention—
only— your insurgence, it seems
unending; something must be done: we trace you back
to our oldest. Potted.
And heaving it up out pours larvae, as
from a pierced bag of rice— well, it won’t be the first extinction
in my kitchen.
Hauling out the afflicted pot, trailing your fever of pearls,
I know the babes remaining can’t
Even as jet-jeweled soldiers race to save their swaddled children
falls the shadow
of my husband bearing
of our cast
our mannered dogs
have not licked off
as I scrub
with my hand-
if they were hungrier
would be easier.
I can put lotion on my arms. I can
put lotion on my arms, dry in the fall,
though today, like a summer, it’s hot
in northern Michigan. And I can wear
sleeveless camisoles to work, where I drive
in my own car, though, times are tough—this—
the second of three jobs. In the car,
In the car, I heard of a boy who said
NO to the al Shabab, taken
to a crowded stadium where they
chopped off his hands. After he came to,
they removed a foot. I can put
lotion on my arms here at work; I can
pick my arms up, I can pick my arms up
and rub the gelatin into my skin.
The lipid tincture soothes as it lubricates,
but it’s the fragrance, that sweet ambrosia
that’s so intoxicating.
The reporter tinkling through the road noise
of my Subaru is a blue Blue Fairy;
she is making the little Arab
a real, real boy. But for his wooden
puppet hands and foot—Well, it’s not like he’s good—
good as new—but he’s planning to be
a scholar and he can’t wait, can’t wait
to play soccer, as they do in Sweden
or whichever Baltic they took him to.
Soccer! I think ( Look Ma! ) but that can’t
hardly be fair: he’s got no hands, no hands
for a federation ball to foul.
If the boy is a real boy, boy, he has
feelings: itchy skin at the butt ends,
phantom limbs. As kids we stalked lizards,
caught mostly their tails, scaly whips; a bit,
a little bit horrified by our prize.
In the German tale, Pinocchio
suffers all manner of torture; the torture
makes him real, makes him cry. What do I know
of tears?—I’m no anthropologist!
Who lops the arms of a boy, shears the tarp
of his skin, the fingertips that brushed
his mother’s cheek? I’ve got kids— get a grip!
what a grip! we say, of the newborn baby,
what a fine grip bringing down the machete.
from the German—was a little shite,
stomping his Jiminy Cricket conscience—
Jesus Christ! But whether the loss was
tragic, I couldn’t say, I couldn’t say—
I’ve only seen the Walt Disney version.
Every species is capable, (capable!)
of some kind of regeneration,
here, in this bottle, in this bottle here, is mine:
Avalon Organics for Body & Hands
with Beta Glucan and rosemary tears.
In my low-lit lobby cubical
I keep the bottle behind the monitor,
it’s got a pump-top—a sec, a sec
to work into my skin. The miracle cream
relieves my reptilian arms, but
it’s the smell of pummel of pummeled flowers
that’s truly regenerating.
Forgive me. I am a liar. I wept
for the boy. So? My weeping was spurred
by the smell, the smell of my comfort. So?
The boy did not dry my eyes. He’s miles
away in a cold place, sitting on Danish
modern furniture the color of sand—
the color of the place he left his hands—
where his hands fell with a dull thud and were tossed
in an earthen sink with other rent bits
of soiled cloth. The boy did not press
together the nubs, the nubs of his arms
and lift to my damp lashes a handkerchief.
His life goes on and on. He reads a book,
he falls asleep. He learns to work his arms
through the long sleeves. His face, face,
his dark eyes, eyes I’ll never see, the boy
whose hands—whose hands cut the boy free.
This Side of the Fair Grounds
Say you’re one of those lucky enough
to live the good life—raspberry blood
in the gravel—more fruit than you can bear
and the larder stocked with jam—Say you
hammock-lounge in an August not yet exhausted—
while a Bombay cat hunts in the wood stack
and mating cardinals chirp in the firs, say
your particular sky— you’re sure— is bluer
than any sea—you live by the sea!—
on a pink hill, a gray town humming the swale
between, would you say your longing is just
like leaves that green and green and green till it’s time
for bed? And when the day that will come comes—
strange as a bruise you can’t explain or
swift as a hammer swing—a once blonde curled
in her house alone, contemplating unknown
relations, arms fixed to the table she won
in a raffle, decades ago—her name
from a hat, easy as that—can you believe
the luck—just a buck for the paper ticket,
number 874—what will you give
nothing you can can even the score—
Jennifer Sperry Steinorth is a poet, educator, collaborative artist, and licensed builder. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly, The Colorado Review, the Collagist, Four Way Review, jubilat, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. A chapbook, Forking the Swift, was published in 2010. In 2015, she was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at Sewanee Writers Conference and is this year’s Writers@Work Poetry Fellow. She lives in northern Michigan and works at Interlochen Center for the Arts.