blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1




When she can no longer steer a car,
I drive my friend to an orthopedic surgeon.
Her hands hang choked in braces
in an office of mythic hands—
an alabaster palm supplicant on an end table;
Escher's hand etching itself behind the receptionist;
backlit fish waving lazily in a tank.

There are twenty-seven bones in the hand,
I read in the brochure.
They stop growing in a person's twenties,
then begin to ossify, attach themselves to one another.

The doctor's voice rubs against
the hum of the aquarium.
He asks my friend what she does for a living,
presses his index finger into the wishbone of her wrist.
She has a bone in her hand for each year she's been alive.
She tells him she's a writer, a teacher.
She doesn't tell him she's tried twice to die.

Already he must not be seeing her
but her hidden bones: minute, ancient
as rune-stones—the same crude shapes
repeated in everyone like a cast of characters
each sure of its role, each growing
more, or less, aware of the others.

A fat orange fish flares past.
Is it true fish forget everything
every time they swim by?
Is this forgetting like being born
again and again in the same small tank?

Now I can't hear my friend.
It says here, in humans,
the last bone to ossify is the breastbone,
over the heart.  

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