This is how clay becomes flesh: dirt and grit
clumping with saliva, bits of sand wedged

between gum and tooth. In my mother’s mouth:
her palate alive with humus: a crush

of chalk threading down her throat: and somewhere
deep within her gut: a Galatea,

milk white, translucent: a creature she’ll bring
together from pulverized stone. She’s sure

all desire begins with me: my unborn,
indiscriminate taste, my unwieldy

appetite for handfuls of ash and soil:
and when I’m born, though she gives me a name

plain and utile as toothpaste, she insists
on calling me Magpie: and how she’s right:

when I’m first caught filling my cavernous
maw with paint chips, plaster, coffee grounds pulled

from the trash, my father reassures her:
this is the work of all infants: to hold

the world inside them, piece by piece: to turn
each sliver about on the tongue: a shape

in a tangram: a code the child’s mouth cracks.
But when my mother finds me, years later:

a toddler, plucking flies from the window:
the curse slithers out of her: freak: as though

she’s never enjoyed this comfort: as though
she doesn’t remember reaching for more.

From The Body is No Machine by Jennifer Perrine. Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Perrine. Reprinted with permission of New Issues Poetry & Prose.