The Animal I Keep in the Cage of My Bones

Two poems about the body by Leah Falk

The Animal I Keep in the Cage of My Bones

Lines after my vasovagal syncope

Here it comes again, heather sea
that surges the shore of my vision
each time the nurse fits my vein
with needle and pump, or
at the bone-click of cervix
clamped open. Brain’s signal
lost to the heart, vert.
unbound from horiz., I make
my own static, a broken
focus promise. The display —
my father’s hope-blue irises,
some distant Irish uncle’s flush –
goes colorless. The nurse offers
water, crackers, sour-apple candy,
but this is the way the animal
I keep in the cage of my bones
rehearses its death, this is its day
of atonement. Or day of geologic
remembrance. Slow fade to before
the earth knew of invasion,
before the body was something
to measure and prick. Flashback
to the world without seams
or borders, to the woman who,
walking a rutted path, first felt
my future cells stir. Flashback
to the ocean first seeing itself
in the sky. To the river I cross
every morning, which looks back
at me like a child who knows
I am lying; knows the window
that divides me from water, flecked
with the memory of hard rain, is easy
to break. Floaters, the doctor says,
are the jelly of the eye trying
as it imitates the shape of each
object’s wish to be seen. Emulsion of fear
and desire, water clouded with starch.
What else could be left of the world
after passing through the body? I come to
in the waiting room, holding a plastic cup
of my breath. Plastic the receiver, the rememberer:
on your colorless veil I’ll write my life. Lymph
makes its rounds again, makes a fist
of refuse. The nurse stands watch until
my vessels fill again with my heart’s
constant broadcast, until my body
takes the shape of its container.

For the body

Alan Turing, age 16

is a machine, sharing its eyes
with the horse and the cinemascope,

blood with the gas engine, fountain pen.
What have I in common

with other living things? The moment
a dinosaur’s jaw cracked

in two — one half snapping birdlike,
the other ground to powder. We have

that. We have the objects in this room
where a billion years have come

and laid down on the tile, seeping
out the screen door and down the garden

drain. This parlor: dresser scarf — ashtray —
good light for reading — easy chairs

with ribbing. Moonstone bust of a mother,
a child rising out of her, mountain

from slip-strike. Although it hurts me, out
of a living line, out of stone or meat, I choose

myself again, again that is one of me, here
where my carriage grew vertical, where my fists

forgot the heavy ground. But your body, wedge,
remembered. Cartridge leaking color.

On the year’s white page, parting
black from un-black. I don’t feel much

like writing more today.

About the Author

Leah Falk’s poems and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, FIELD, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She’s received support for her writing from the Yiddish Book Center, the Vermont Studio Center, and Asylum Arts. She lives in Philadelphia and runs programming at the Writers House at Rutgers University-Camden.

“Lines after my vasovagal syncope” and “For the body” are published here by permission of the author, Leah Falk. Copyright © Leah Falk 2019. All rights reserved.

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