Shouldn’t it ache, this slit
into the sweet
and salt mix of waters

composing the mussel,
its labial meats
winged open: yellow-

fleshed, black and gray
around the tough
adductor? It hurts

to imagine it, regardless
of the harvester’s
denials, swiveling

his knife to make
the incision: one
dull cyst nicked

from the oyster’s
mantle—its thread of red
gland no bigger

than a seed
of trout roe—pressed
inside this mussel’s

tendered flesh.
Both hosts eased
open with a knife

(as if anything
could be said to be eased
with a knife):

so that one pearl
after another can be
harvested, polished,

added to others
until a single rope is strung
on silk. Linked

by what you think
is pain. Nothing
could be so roughly

handled and yet feel
so little, your pity
turned into part of this

production: you
with your small,
four-chambered heart,

shyness, hungers, envy: what
in you could be so precious
you would cleave

another to keep it
close? Imagine
the weeks it takes to wind

nacre over the red
seed placed at another
heart’s mantle. The mussel

become what no one
wants to:
vessel, caisson, wounded

into making us
the thing we want
to call beautiful.

More by Paisley Rekdal

Bats

unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.

Intimacy

How horrible it is, how horrible
that Cronenberg film where Goldblum's trapped

with a fly inside his Material
Transformer: bits of the man emerging

gooey, many-eyed; bits of the fly
worrying that his agent's screwed him–

I almost flinch to see the body later
that's left its fly in the corner, I mean

the fly that's left its body, recalling too
that medieval nightmare, Resurrection,

in which each soul must scurry
to rejoin the plush interiors of its flesh,

pushing through, marrying indiscriminately
because Heaven won't take what's only half:

one soul blurring forever
into another body.

If we can't know the boundaries between ourselves
in life, what will they be in death,

corrupted steadily by maggot,
rain or superstition, by affection

that depends on memory to survive?
People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger's waistline, joint

problems or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.

Self-Portrait as Mae West One-Liner

I'm no moaning bluet, mountable
linnet, mumbling nun. I'm
tangible, I'm gin. Able to molt
in toto, to limn. I'm blame and angle, I'm
lumbago, an oblate mug gone notable,
not glum. I'm a tabu tuba mogul, I'm motile,
I'm nimble. No gab ennui, no bagel bun-boat: I'm one
big mega-ton bolt able to bail
men out. Gluten iamb. Male bong unit.
I'm a genial bum, mental obi, genital
montage. I'm Agent Limbo, my blunt bio
an amulet, an enigma. Omit elan. Omit bingo.
Alien mangle, I'm glib lingo. Untangle me,
tangelo. But I'm no angel.