I would have liked then for someone to touch me
So I could know the purpose of this hardship.
Black-eyed and impassive as a canyon,
From the hive of my mind, I looked at their faces
As I moved between rows of espaliered pears.
I only intended for someone to show
Me, once, an affection like the sun
Shows even the simplest bulb, entering what’s hidden.
Let me show them instead the picture
In a knife’s reflection, take down my hair
Where the gravedigger kneels among new potatoes.
Behind my teeth are headstones, and behind those
Skeletons of cavemen, of dinosaurs,
And under my skin: alphabets, alphabets
In black ink, a legacy of histories tiny and alive
As an ant army marching toward forever.
Understand, please—I, too, have a splendid use,
This world could not get rid of me if it wanted to.
Copyright © 2016 by Monica Ferrell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 7, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
“‘Emma Bovary’ took its time. It started years ago as a monologue in the voice of the Cumaean Sibyl from Virgil’s Aeneid, twice as long and very boring. More recently I have been obsessed with Lydia Davis’s translation of Madame Bovary, and coming across the unfinished poem while thinking about Emma finally made the lines snap into place: The leaf-cutter ants of Costa Rica make an appearance too.”