The dead are for morticians & butchers to touch. Only a gloved hand. Even my son will leave a grounded wren or bat alone like a hot stove. When he spots a monarch in the driveway he stares. It’s dead, I say, you can touch it. The opposite rule: butterflies are too fragile to hold alive, just the brush of skin could rip a wing. He skims the orange & black whorls with only two fingers, the way he learned to feel the backs of starfish & horseshoe crabs at the zoo, the way he thinks we touch all strangers. I was sad to be born, he tells me, because it means I will die. I once loved someone I never touched. We played records & drank coffee from chipped bowls, but didn’t speak of the days pierced by radiation. A friend said: Let her pretend. She needs one person who doesn’t know. If I held her, I would have left bruises, if I undressed her, I would have seen scars, so we never touched & she never had to say she was dying. We should hold each other more while we are still alive, even if it hurts. People really die of loneliness, skin hunger the doctors call it. In a study on love, baby monkeys were given a choice between a wire mother with milk & a wool mother with none. Like them, I would choose to starve & hold the soft body.
Copyright © 2019 by Robin Beth Schaer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by Traci Brimhall. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The first time I saw my mother, she'd been dead fourteen years and came as a ghost in the mirror, plucking the hair beneath her arms, and humming a bossa nova. She lotioned her chapped heels and padded her bra as if she were alive in the old way. She said I was born with my cord wrapped around my neck like a rosary, and she knew God, the doomed father of her days, wanted us both. Before midnight she plaited my hair, hemmed my skirt, sang lullabies she'd learned on the other side of the flood. She lifted her dress to show her bones shedding light on a stillborn fetus accidentally raptured into her ribs. She said she'd choose her death again, obey any pain heaven gave her. Years ago she watched a man ride a diving bell to the bottom of the Amazon to face the mysteries God had placed there. The chain broke, and they pulled him to the surface smiling, stiff, refusing to open his fists. They broke and unpeeled his fingers. No one wept or fought to hold it. She covered her eyes so she wouldn't see what God, in his innocence, had done.
Copyright © 2012 by Traci Brimhall. Used with permission of the author.