waitress poems

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Freshman year, you stood before the class
in a sky colored dress and sang out
the 22 parts of the skull without trepidation:
occipital, parietal, temporal, spenoid...

Smooth as a game show host,
you tilted your chin bravely and announced
the dangling man with rousing alliterative zeal:
mandibles, maxillars, malars, mastoids...

You ran your hands over long bones and short,
carressed secret hollows, poked at porous arcs;
slenderness you courted with abandon, rejoicing
at the pointy hip, swell of ribs beneath your shirt.

What were those strange and foreign names
to you anyway? Radius, ulna, carpus, metacarpus...
As remote as cities you would never see,
black and white photographs of orphans
on streets littered with despair. Only when

your friends began to die did angularity
begin to signal dread: Beautiful Karen,
the first girl in your class to grow breasts--she
painted butterflies on her scalp when the cranium

revealed its terrifying nuance. And then Richard,
a man so ordinary you were sure
that even death would take no notice of him.
Embracing in his airless room that last time,

all the sing-song lessons leaped to life:
Illium, ischium, scapula, sternum...
That was when you began to fear
the proximity of bones, the clavicle sharpening

itself above your heart, knobby patella gleaming
beneath jeans. What could you do but
arm yourself with flesh, swallowing milk and olive oil
as you resorted to the oldest trick

of the species? And to flinch in silence
as the bones were addressed out loud
by girls in sky blue dresses, too young to fear
the cold litany that belies frail identity:

Tibia, fibula, femur, metatarsus...


Photograph by Gustavo G.

first appeared in The Ontario Review


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