I want to put something inside me. 
No, entirely inside, and seal it 
shut. Leave it there to fester 
or to petrify.  

A pearl isn’t made 
from some proverbial 
grain of sand, it begins 
when a body dies 
inside a mollusk’s shell. 

I want to stitch
myself closed
like thread
through stones and wait
for my memories of you to die. 

There is a measure 
for the luster 
of a pearl, a chart 
to grade a person’s pain. 
How much does it hurt?

It hurts. It hurts
an oyster shell 
in my belly, it hurts
so much I’ve begun to shine. 

Da Vinci once thought 
to paint a pearl onto glass— 
a lacquer mixed with fish scales 
to produce the sheen.  
Little did he know 
how we’d surpass his means:  

the oysters hang in rows 
across the bay, cleaned 
by crews so the wombs 
of the planted pearls won’t be 
smothered by ocean weeds.  

Doesn’t everyone dream
that they’re drowning?

Under the right set 
of circumstances
almost any shelled mollusk 
can produce some kind of pearl. 

I watch a woman use a rusted blade 
to pry open an oyster, flesh studded 
with pearls packed tight
against each other like 
pomegranate seeds. 

The artificial impregnation 
of a mollusk takes only seconds
and a skilled practitioner 
may manage five hundred 
repetitions in a day.  

In my dream, gloved women 
are spreading my labia 
with cold metal clamps. 
They make neat, nearly painless incisions 
and use tweezers to deposit 
small shards of your death inside.  

This grief is biological. I tend it
and it grows. Let me make
something beautiful 
from my pain. 

Legend has it that Cleopatra 
once dropped a pearl into wine  
and drank it whole.  

Copyright © 2019 by Erika Luckert. This poem was first printed in Blue Earth Review. Used with the permission of the author.