~This poem was previously published in The Ledge (2011).
Splayed on a table,
brow knitted against the light,
I hold my breath in the frigid room
where a white machine whines and hums,
its tedious song lulling, the shadow
of its calibrated arm passing over me,
slow, telic—an ancient gesture.
O deliver me from mechanical chants,
from keypad-decoded maledictions
transforming on black screens
into elegant images: this one,
a slim chain of white lace descending,
delicate, serpentine, its loose crochet
a portent of my unraveling.
A technician studies this apparition,
scrying Cassandra-like in a veil of pixels
the doom she must soon pronounce.
But I’ve already seen the future, minutes ago
in the crowded waiting room, a woman so curled
by vertebral collapse she could not look up,
wedged like an ill-used comma
between the daughter and grandson
commandeering both armrests,
the former thumbing House and Garden,
the latter the latest hand-held device.
The white-robed technician has typed a code,
zoomed in on my upper spine, pointing
to a cosmic image so riddled with black holes
it has all but vanished. “Crush fractures,”
she announces. The once-erect matriarch
still hugs herself in the waiting room, quietly
imploding, reduced to the reading of shoes.
“See?” the technician summons, holes
gaping at me like mouths of hungry infants,
the forced air sucked from the room.
I don’t see, can’t augur
what goes against nature. Flesh sags,
organs fail, but bones—O let them endure,
let them hold us together to the end and beyond
that they may be licked clean and weathered
to white crystal, their messages scribed
in the fossil record: dependable,
~This poem was previously published in The Comstock Review (2006).
I stand in the shadow my father casts across
the old incubator in the cellar, watching him lift a pheasant egg
out of its cradle. He holds it high, between forefinger
and thumb, the way a priest examines the Host.
In front of us a bare bulb dangles;
we stare in silence at what the light reveals,
a spidery nebula drifting in its own universe
with a pin dot-sized black hole dead
center, pulsating wildly. He sets it in my cupped hand;
I take out a pen, mark a large X over the speckled surface.
Finished, there are twenty two Xs, fifteen cold Os.
Xs go back in the incubator; he takes the Os upstairs
to the kitchen, grim offering for the Insinkerator.
I might have fashioned crosses from twigs, sung
“Children of the Heavenly Father,” scooped graves
with my fingers, mounding the leaf mold just so
instead of sitting in a corner stuffing my ears with Hail Marys,
waiting for the grinding to stop—which it won’t, not in this lifetime,
not since the day I lay in the shadow of another disposer-god
while my own shiny little nebula, sucked through a black hole,
flickered out of the universe. “Thou shalt not mark an X with an O,”
our Father says. Sweet Mother, can’t you hear?
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“Bone Loss” grew out of impressions gathered while waiting in the crowded reception areas of far too many doctor’s offices. It is not autobiographical—well, my spinal column is not in danger of collapsing, anyway. The procedure for determining bone density did, however, remind me of an ancient ritual, so I ran with it.
“Cold O” is definitely autobiographical, stemming from incidents in both childhood and early adulthood that continue to haunt my dreams.
ABOUT KATE HOVEY
Kate Hovey is the author of three award-winning books of poetry for young readers: Arachne Speaks, Ancient Voices and Voices of the Trojan War, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. A mask maker and metal smith, she performs and conducts workshops at schools across the country, using poetry, myth and the art of the mask to bring the gods and heroes of ancient Greece to life for students of all ages. She is a contributor to Mythology and Modern Women Poets: Analysis, Reflection and Teaching (forthcoming from McFarland) and has won several awards for her ‘grown-up’ poetry. Her work has appeared most recently in So To Speak, PoemMemoirStory, The River Styx and The Lyric Moment, an anthology published by Tebot Bach. Visit www.KateHovey.com for more information on her books and school programs.