[ToC]

 

I WAS NOT BORN

Julia Cohen

I was made on the counter, tall as a vase. Smearing the window, watching my parents drive to the hospital. I'm waving.

Bring me back a brother. A good one.

Bring me back something warm that stares. With its own blanket & cap. Smaller than a doll. Needles & a nurse stashing candy in the freezer.

I am the oldest, smoldering in a crib. What won't I outgrow? Why is my hair so thick? I hate bangs, they close off the opera face.

Let me burp you, let me show you the swamp. Let me toss a crabapple at your baseball bat. Let's take a bath together. Let's drink the sprinkler. Let's give you the bigger room & a wooden sword & all the dumb names for hamsters.

Let's drive your toy trucks off the road. I was never born, I've had hair for centuries. You're on my side, see.

 

 

*

 

 

I scream a bit. I fill my pillowcase with canned food. I stare at a painting. Pastels. I live in a shell on the mantel. My finger finds a tunnel through the clay. I drip a castle onto the beach & an army of crab legs crown.

Jar the crab legs. Jar the white stones. Jar the chrysalis but punch holes through the lid. Jar the sparklers into smoke. Jar my cough. Give me back a pulse. Give me back my pile of paper. My clothing, clean hair. I'm sitting on the stairwell in sickness, in pale face, in fragile gown, listening to dinner clink below. I drink juice, swallow ten pills at a time. I was taught to fight this body & no one shows me how to stop.

Throw clay at the wall. Dip bird skeletons in slip & stick them in the kiln. A mother's maiden name, little feminist, don't like boys back. But I sleep in their tents, play battleship in their attics. Walk around with those I love like they don't have hands.

Paint the window with me. Wake before me & swim to the sea. Shake that salt on my pillow. I take books in the bathtub. I dunk books in the bath. They dry like waves. My soapy soapy hands.

What my body does has no name, has betrayed me. The needles the bottles the popsicles. What do little alveoli say? They speak when they want to. I'm a file, ten feet long of test results.

Test negative for leukemia, test negative for cystic fibrosis, test negative for mononucleosis, test negative for HIV. Whatever the next test is, if positive, I'll have a name. To call. Out of bed. I'm nine, give a class presentation on Ohio before summer breaks with pollen.

The shock of clumped hair in the drain. I have trouble asking for what I want. Hold my wrists. Don't doctor. Wring out these waterlogged limbs. Let me outlive my pet.

 

 

*

 

 

Some kind of ancient history:

shake your head back & forth to kill the animal. How many children can we fit? The last one asks a parent for help. Extra toothbrushes, floss, pill bottle buds, & nail clippers on the shelf. We clip the flowers together.

Grief is a thing we store in a hatbox. It reads us stories of witches buying groceries. It has two stone lions & a broken leg. It has a collection of canes I get to keep.

O little jar of thorns, the thumbs rejoice. Arrange the flowers. I cut my brother's hair, he shakes his head with a new neck. Air-neck like a buff tusk. The wooden sword he stabs the door with, I lean against on the other side. O damsel in distress, what maiden name

to pin thy chest. When the sword splits we use its limbs for kindling. I turn the animal over the spit. I wipe the shelf with the sleeve of my thorn.

 

 

*

 

So gone:

 

Two attics connect through a passage.

Flashlights & hands & knees.

The stuffing of a house falling out, among dead mice, nails.

To travel from one black O to the other is a rite.

To be nine & dusty, the leader.

The ignorer of spiders.  I'm healthy & dead in this century.

I have no last words, only glances as I swallow the bird.

Everybird. The chimney brings.

Levitate me with your hollow bones.

 

 

*

 

 

Brain-fog. My lungs call me the Sleep-Mobile. In autumn the bed in spring the hammock.

If my body takes away my brain. If papers scatter on the carpet then a deadline's passed. Then fight the mother instead of the doctor. How easy to fight her instead. Hide pills in the planters.

Sickness takes a certain kind of patience. To get thy brain back, little feminist, the weather must change. So I wait with her last name inside me.

If the letters are sewn into my sailor's cuff. If my gender's assigned a bunkmate. My hair ambiguous & shorn.

Where's my brother? He's home so I'm not forgotten.

 

 

*

 

 

The hammock is a leaky ship.

Let her name inflate you.

If you have patience, jar it.

I can wait for the right hand to hold.

To recline is to wait.

O limp lungs.

I cannot know what I'm missing.

 

 

*

 

 

Outtakes of health: Trampoline, pop-quiz, a soccer field, an essay. Hiking until the trees shrink to our knees. No symptoms near the lemonade stand & Dixie cups.

Little brother let's roll our eyes. Let's eat Oreos.

Put the frog in the cookie-tin to scare the parents. We're a family in a canoe. Engaged with oars & shoreline.

For lunch let's swim to the raft with sandwiches held above our heads.

 

 

*

 

 

Do you miss the sickness? How to trust a body that's betrayed you. No cure if there is no name & there is no name for the cureless. So how could I hear you calling? A hairbrush melting on the lamp, a nap.

When to be healthy is to be another person.

Bones made of paper, scrolled tight & tied by a thin blue vein. Ringed as a tree revealing years. Maybe this is the trick: carve nothing in stone. Set snow or creases in beeswax. Not to say take these as hiccups, but trails slashed or waded out.

How to let you love this body that has betrayed me that I am learning to love for the name it holds.

 

 

*

 

 

In every doctor's office, a fish tank:

 

A fact so far away. Forgive yourself, I'm standing. I'm not ambiguous I'm your daughter. Not fragile, not reclining. I ignore the seasons like my brother. Let's find the hamsters' graves under the geranium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My maiden voyage is a drunk ship blinding back the lighthouse. Hi, my hair is certain & complete. Like any other century.

 

 

*

 

 

In the after:

 

I wear cute hoodies.

 

I have smooth cuticles.

 

I light candles with my fingertips.

 

A hue more beautiful than health:

 

I let you in the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

__

x