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Cymothoa Exigua

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cymothoa exigua*: the tongue as what it is not—blemish   
and parasite: gimp and glottal stop: what question can be   
answered with a truant mouth: can the lynched man hung   
from the sails of a windmill taste the lead pipe wedged   
between his lips: when the signifiers dangle, empty chum   
lines in a cold creek: when the men in Waco, wearing white   
straw hats, fraying at the crisp edges of their white shirts,   
leave Jesse, leave John, leave Paul in ashes in the unpaved   
streets to choke passing mules into prophecy: when we pinch   
our noses to staunch the smell of the twice burnt black man   
burning for a third time this day: when the boys, sweet   
and good animals, come to what’s been left in shallow ditches:   
false rib and femur, clavicle and severed hand—quite simply,   
the language of sorrow: glyph of the gadfly rooting himself   
into the rotting meat of the dead: when it is too late   
to refuse our bodies being made urns: corn, unharvested   
and heavy in its husks: when, in the marketplace, the butcher lifts   
our tongue from a bed of ice, shouts: who will speak for this flesh:   
when the tongue answers as all severed tongues do:   

Cymothoa exigua is a parasitic crustacean that attaches itself to the tongues of spotted rose snappers and extracts blood from the tongue until it atrophies and falls off. Then the parasite attaches itself to the nub and acts as the fish’s tongue. According to scientists, the fish is not harmed in the process.
Source: Poetry (December 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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Cymothoa Exigua

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  • Roger Reeves's poems have appeared in journals such as PoetryPloughshares, American Poetry ReviewBoston Review, and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected “Kletic of Walt Whitman” for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. He earned his PhD the University of Texas-Austin and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book is King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013).

    In April 2013, Reeves was a featured writer for Harriet.

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