Liquid Flesh

By Brenda Shaughnessy b. 1970 Brenda Shaughnessy
In a light chocolatine room
with blackout windows,
a loud clock drowns in soft dawn’s
 
syllables, crisscrossed
with a broken cloudiness
I’d choose as my own bedcovers
 
but cannot. My choice of sleep
or sky has no music of its own.
There’s no “its own” while the baby cries.
 
Oh, the baby cries. He howls and claws
like a wrongly minor red wolf
who doesn’t know his mother.
 
I know I am his mother, but I can’t
quite click on the word’s essential aspects,
can’t denude the flora
 
or disrobe the kind of housecoat
“mother” always is. Something
cunty, something used.
 
Whatever meaning the word itself
is covering, like underwear,
that meaning is so mere and meager
 
this morning. Mother. Baby.
Chicken and egg. It’s so obnoxious
of me: I was an egg
 
who had  an egg
and now I’m a chicken,
as usual scooping up
 
both possibilities,
or what I used to call
possibilities. I used
 
to be this way, so ontologically
greedy, wanting to be it all.
Serves me right.
 
My belief in the fluidity
of the self turns out to mean
my me is a flow of wellwater,
                                                   
without the well, or the bucket,
a hole dug and seeping.
A kind of unwell, where
 
the ground reabsorbs
what it was displaced to give.
The drain gives meaning to the sieve.
 
As I said: a chicken who still
wants to be all potential.
Someone who springs
 
and falls, who cannot see
how many of us I have
in me—and I do not like them all.
 
Do I like us? Can I love us?
If anyone comes
first it’s him, but how can that be?
 
I was here way, way first.
I have the breasts, godawful, and he
the lungs and we share the despair.
 
For we are a we, aren’t we? We split
a self in such a way that there isn’t
enough for either of us.
 
The father of the baby is sleepy
and present in his way, in the way
of fathers. He is devoted like
 
few fathers, and maybe hurts
like I hurt, like no fathers.
I don’t know what someone else
 
feels, not even these someones
who are also me. Do they hurt
like I do?  Why can’t they
 
tell me, or morse or sign: let
me know they know where and how
and why it hurts? Or something?
 
What is the point of other people,
being so separate, if we can’t
help a person get that pain
 
will stick its shiv into anything,
just to get rid of the weapon
and because it can? For if we share
 
ourselves then they, too, must
also be in so much pain.
I can hear it. Oh, my loves.
 
The wood of the crib, the white
glow of the milk (which must
have siphoned off the one
 
and only pure part of me, leaving
me with what, toxicity
or sin or mush?), the awful softness.
 
I’ve been melted into something
too easy to spill. I make more
and more of myself in order
 
to make more and more of the baby.
He takes it, this making. And somehow
he’s made more of me, too.
 
I’m a mother now.
I run to the bathroom, run
to the kitchen, run to the crib
 
and I’m not even running.
These places just scare up as needed,
the wires that move my hands
 
to the sink, to the baby,
to the breast are electrical.
I’m in shock.
 
One must be in shock to say so,
as if one’s own state is assessable,
like a car accident or Minnesota taxes.
 
A total disaster, this sack of liquid
flesh which yowls and leaks
and I’m talking about me
 
not the baby. Me, this puddle
of a middle, this utilized vessel,
cracked hull, divine
 
design. It’s how it works. It’s how
we all got here. Deform
following the function . . .
 
But what about me? I whisper
secretly and to think,
around these parts used to be
 
the joyful place of sex,
what is now this intimate
terror and squalor.
 
My eyes burned out at three a.m. and again
at six and eleven. This is why the clock
is drowning, as I said earlier.
 
I’m trying to explain it.
I repeat myself, or haven’t I already?
Tiny self, along with a tiny self.
 
I’ll say it: he hurt me, this new
babe, then and now.
Perhaps he always will,
 
though thoughts of the future
seem like science fiction novels
I never finished reading.
 
Their ends like red nerves
chopped off by cleaver, not aliens,
this very moment, saving nothing for later.
 
He howls with such fury and clarity
I must believe him.
No god has the power
 
to make me believe anything,
yet I happen to know
this baby knows a way out.
 
This dark hole closing in on me
all around: he’ll show me
how to get through
 
the shock and the godlessness
and the rictus of crushed flesh,
into the rest of my life.

Brenda Shaughnessy, “Liquid Flesh” from Our Andromeda. Copyright © 2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. www.coppercanyonpress.org

Source: Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press, 2012)

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Poet Brenda Shaughnessy b. 1970

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Marriage & Companionship, Parenthood, The Body, The Mind, Love, Realistic & Complicated, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

 Brenda  Shaughnessy

Biography

Brenda Shaughnessy earned a BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MFA from Columbia University. She is the author of Interior with Sudden Joy (1999), Human Dark with Sugar (2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Our Andromeda (2012). Her work has appeared in the Yale Review, the Boston Review, McSweeney’s, and Best American Poetry, among other places. With C.J. Evans, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Marriage & Companionship, Parenthood, The Body, The Mind, Love, Realistic & Complicated, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

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