Self-Portrait as the Chosen One

Long before I was what I am now, short
of breath, bald, just returned with arthritic knees
from exile in another country’s muck and red
volcanic soil, too near-sighted to discern
the High Plains tumbleweed from the burning
bush of myth, scorched now and silent,
long before this, I was the first son my mother
bore that lived. The first two were named,
baptized as they strangled blue and cold
in the stillborn canal. Incorruptible halo
of hospital lights. But not me—I got dragged
through by the forceps in time to cut the cord,
unwind the noose of flesh from my pulsing neck.
I can’t be sure when she first told me this

story, this incantation, why they adopted
my brother before I was born. Maybe I was
five or six. But I heard it so many times it swelled
below my skin, a cyst adherent to bone.
We were walking on an unweeded path at the edge
of some woods a few blocks from the house,
the trees razed later for condos, a strip mall.
You’re a miracle, she said. You’ll do great things.
But I haven’t. I remember the September grass
wilting, the dead leaves’ veins crunching underfoot.
From that day I’ve been lost, wandering
through a field of flawed memories and missed
signposts. What she should have said is
you will learn even your skin is a borrowed mask.

From Instructions for Seeing a Ghost (University of North Texas Press, 2020) by Steve Bellin-Oka. Copyright © 2020 by Steve Bellin-Oka. Used with the permission of the author.