Bicameral - Poem by Linda Gregerson
Choose any angle you like, she said,
the world is split in two. On one side, health
and dumb good luck (or money, which can pass
for both), and elsewhere . . . well,
they're eight days from the nearest town,
the parents are frightened, they think it's their fault,
the child isn't able to suck. A thing
so easily mended, provided
you have the means. I've always thought it was
odd, this part (my nursing school
embryology), this cleft in the world
that has to happen and has to heal. At first
the first division, then the flood of them, then
the migratory plates that make a palate when
they meet (and meeting, divide
the chambers, food
from air). The suture through which (the upper
lip) we face the world. It falls
a little short sometimes, as courage does.
Bolivia once, in May (I'd volunteer
on my vacations), and the boy was nine.
I know the world has harsher
things, there wasn't a war, there wasn't
malice, I know, but this one
broke me down. They brought him in
with a bag on his head. It was
burlap, I think, or sisal. Jute.
They hadn't so much as cut eyeholes.
Because the outer layer (mostly copper
with a bit of zinc) is good for speed
but does too little damage (what
is cleaner in the muzzle—you've begun
to understand—is also cleaner in
the flesh), the British at Dum Dum (Calcutta) devised
an 'open nose,' through which
the leaden core, on impact, greatly
expands (the lead being softer). Hence
the name. And common enough in Warsaw
decades later (it was 1943), despite
some efforts in The Hague. I don't
remember all of it, he wasn't even German,
but my mother's arm—
that capable arm—was severed at
the shoulder, made (a single
shot) a strange thing altogether.
Meat. I haven't been able since
to think the other way is normal, all
these arms and legs.
Sisal, lambswool, horsehair, hemp.
The weaver and her coat-of-manyharrowings.
If fiber found in situ, in
agave, say, the living cells that drink
and turn the sun to exoskeleton,
is taken from the body that
in part it constitutes (the
succulent or mammal and its ex-
quisite osmotics), is
then carded, cut, dissevered
in one fashion or another from
the family of origin, and
gathered on a loom,
the body it becomes will ever
bind it to the human and a trail
of woe. Or so
the garment argues. These
were hung as in an abattoir.
Immense (12 feet and more from upper
cables to the lowest hem). And vascular,
slit, with labial
protrusions, skeins of fabric like
intestines on the gallery floor.
And beautiful, you understand.
As though a tribe of intimates (the
coronary plexus, said the weaver) had
been summoned (even such
a thing the surgeon sometimes has
to stitch) to tell us, not unkindly, See,
the world you have to live in is
the world that you have made.
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