Frogs breathe through their skin.
Students dissect what glistens.
Janice leans into the gray slab of desk.
Her lab partner Thomas clips wires to flesh
and stares at the twitching legs.
His fascination scares her. She chokes on the red
and blue diagram of blood. The slate-topped
dissecting table is cold against her arms. To stop
his grin, she traces her brash thought
with a pen to her wrist. She whispers how she wants
to map her own ribbons
of blood under the skin
with the scalpel's tippy edge. That scares
the boy. He sees how she shines, not so bright
as a star—but phosphorescent, white-hot,
sparking, eel-slick, fanged, and bare.
That messed-up girl is so long ago,
I hardly remember how she felt.
Mostly, life makes sense.
It's a garden border, daylilies in back
and down at my feet the sorrel and mint.
It's packing a dish barrel box
with cardboard sleeves and round foam.
Life does a loose-footed dance.
My table always has a bowl of fruit,
and I no longer sway at the bar's dim door.
That neon cactus buzzes without me.
And every time I don't
angle in to park, every time I don't push in
the tray of quarters for a game of pool,
the place recedes. I mean,
the street rumples like a bedspread.
Check the map online: pixels fractured
and confused. Then they order themselves
and just like that, it's another mile
from my house to the bar.
Shaving My Legs
I don't peel my shin with the razor.
The skin cells pulse. They feel what they
just missed, from epidermis down
to adipose tissue. No, bones.
They answer clack like a long beak.
Bones, I'm not interested in your
shenanigans, your crack-snap agenda,
your scrimshaw, your ivory letter-openers,
delicate pagodas, cranes stretching
to call each other. And no, despite
what the cranes say, love isn't
always enough. It doesn't feel the same
as self-destruction to cut around the edge of
like a paper snowflake, thin skinned plum,
bad brakes, cliff-edge trail,
angel-delicate balance, low visibility,
shadow cruising the reef, dying
cigarette pressed to the elbow's bend.
It's true sometimes Bad Janice says
to find a thread of blood under my skin
and press the pulse. She gets in my head.
We've got a history of dissection. We pried
the mollusk open. We opened her up to see
if what's inside is red and wet. It was. It is.
She's Tired of Being a Metaphor
But without her, it's just me.
I'm sniffing glue. I've got
my brother's knife in my pocket.
That's not me. That's her,
crunched in the wrecked
drunk-driving prom-night car.
She's the 6 o'clock news.
I'm not she. She's words
scrawled in the bathroom stall.
Shut up, bad girl. Today the sun
escorts me to the slough.
Husks drift in clear water. The grass
says hush like a lady's skirts.
The sun is a potter's liquid hands
slipping into the river.
Gators sleep on the mudflats.
An egret toes its way past.
His prints in the mud are code:
Love, love is all we need.
I'll drown her whisper out.
Bad Janice waits like a heron.
All day, she stays. She feels
a coming flash and break. She's ready
for her electric heart to jolt awake.
Perhaps writers have always been into alter-egos, fragmented consciousness, Horrible Henry and Mr. Bones, Jekyll and Hyde, and all such. By day I'm a mild-mannered English teacher. By night, I am mostly, too. But human beings are complicated critters. We have sharp and pointy parts within our milder selves. I've given a name to such a fragment: Bad Janice. She's tough to manage. You can quell her for a time, but she comes back. You can try to rub her out, to erase her, but when you think she has disappeared, she's just hiding. Erasure is about the significance of the unseen, the presence of what is absent. This poem is all about what is made visible, or made invisible -- whether by tracing lines with a scalpel, or aesthetically willing away chaos, or conjuring a mile of physical distance by willing oneself farther away from a neon cactus bar sign, or silencing a fragmented voice.