by Rick Marlatt


I supposed I've prepared for this,
the time I showed my son how
to shoot his gun by demonstrating
without any ammunition, simply
propelling vacant air towards sky,
asked white stars for truth without
ever really believing in an answer,
written line after line after line
without ever saying anything.

I've bought frozen peas, Valium,
set out some novels and a cooler.
Doctor steps forward with shears
that flash in the blinding light.
What I smell is metallic, barren.

When I was young, my grandmother
told me a story about an indigenous
tribe whose custom it was to remove
sections of the female genitalia in
order to prevent the women from
committing unauthorized sexual acts.
I remember grandmother called it
barbaric, cruel, the devil's work.
She also raised swans, grandmother,
on her small pond in the river valley.
One June the pasture coyotes took all
the cygnets from the old father who
fought back unsuccessfully each time
with terrible fierceness and stalked
the prairie like a ghost for the rest
of his days searching for his babies.

Doctor seems finished now as he
removes his mask and begins idle
chatter of research in skin treatment.
My thinking of grandmother puzzles
me greatly--her eyes of lilac worlds.
As I limp through the waiting room
lazy faces rise slowly from magazines,
see civilized discipline, responsibility.
My head sags, never again proud or
erect like the swan's whose onyx eyes
haunt me like the gristle of empty nests.


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