March 2012

Anatomy Lessons

listen to this poem
 
Her brother-in-law told her it should have changed her. You’d think someone like you would have revaluated her life after something like this, he shouted from the door of her parents’ house after declaring her no longer welcome inside, saying her parents had lost the only child they wanted.

She had been through the steps, done all the meditative yoga, taken all the medication. She had nights of introspection. They saved her from nothing. They redeemed nothing. They changed nothing about the nights still before her, about the men still before her.

There was the man who bet the ponies, who left his losing tickets in her bathroom trash can. There was the man who sold her the car, promising it had thousands of miles to go. There was the man who slipped her pieces of candy. The man who told her to stop crying. There was the man whose hands were heavy. There was the man who gave her his bed. The man who spoke to her only when she slept. There was the man who contained names. The man who erased names. The man who would not use her name.

There was the man who knew anatomy, who recited the parts of her skeleton as his fingers traced each bone, moving from origin to insertion. He settled his hands on her hips, telling her to avoid the word “hips.” Say “iliac crest,” he whispered. She said iliac crest. His hands kept moving. Her mouth moved with them, reciting iliac spine, ischial tuberosity, pubic symphysis.

As she spoke she remembered her sister’s doctor, how he, too, used a string of fancy words—cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia—but how really they all meant hopeless. As she named the parts of her body, she remembered the last time she saw her sister. Her sister would never speak of anything intimate but listened as she described the first time she tried waxing at home, how she didn’t know what to look for at the pharmacy, how she couldn’t find the tubs of wax or the repurposed tongue depressors, how she ended up with pairs of plastic strips, the wax enclosed between them.

For once, her sister hadn’t changed the subject or choked on her tea, just looked around the empty room before asking How do they work? She doesn’t remember everything she said, if she told her sister to hold the skin taut, to move rapidly, to take an aspirin beforehand. She only remembers describing those plastic strips, how she said, Everything you need is already there. Just rub them between your hands. The body contains lots of heat.