Body Parts

I mentioned two creepy hand poems a few months back, Charles Simic’s “Bestiary for the Fingers of My Right Hand” and John Keats’ “This living hand…,” the latter especially a great Halloween poem, with the gothic cinematic dead hand gesturing toward the living at the end, which got me thinking about body part poems, and Halloween has me thinking about Frankenstein’s monster in all its various incarnations, which got me wondering what a Frankensteined “body of poetry” would look like…

The “Eyes:” from William Matthews: “Light bored / into his eyes but where did it go?  / Into a sea of phosphenes, / along the wet fuse of some dead  / nerve, it hid everywhere and couldn’t / be found.”

Just below the eyes, the nose, placed smack in the middle, and hard to take seriously even if you’re not talking about a stitched-together monster. But even so you should “Be Glad Your Nose is On Your Face” like Jack Prelutsky says, for “Imagine if your precious nose / were sandwiched in between your toes, / that clearly would not be a treat, / for you’d be forced to smell your feet.”

Finishing out the face, the mouth. “What my lips have kissed, and where and why” can be hard to keep track of, says Edna St. Vincent Millay, perhaps because between the lips “The Tongue Is,” and according to Yusef Komunyakaa the tongue is “Xeroxed on brainmatter” and “It starts like the slow knocking / in a radiator’s rusty belly.”

Around to the side, ears, which remain what they are, and capable of listening, in Carolyn Forche’s vivid political poem “The Colonel,” whether or not they remain attached to the body they came from. For a head of hair let’s use the mother’s hair from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, “like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”

Leading down to the aforementioned hands, Carl Sandburg’s “White Shoulders,” and the “Low laughter / Shaken slow / From your white shoulders.” From there, down Charles Bukowski’s arms on which drunken ants are crawling (which you can find in The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. Who was it who said, at a poetry reading somewhere, that everyone should have a book of Bukowski on their shelf but it doesn’t matter which one?). Those hands, the right from Simic and the left from Keats, when they’re not busy gesturing at you from the grave or seeing their thumbs go off to hunt alone with wolves, can make shadow animals, which as Marianne Boruch says in “The Book of Hand Shadows,” “All take two hands, even the sheep  / whose mouth is a lever for nothing, neither / grass nor complaint.”

For the torso, and all the internal organs, we turn to Michael Ondaatje’s “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid,” with the “soft warm stomach like a luscious blood wet oasis, weaving in and out of the red yellow blue green nerves” and “meridians of blue matter,” etcetera.

The legs of this monster want to dance, as they do in Cornelius Eady’s “April.” “The legs want a different sort of work,” they want to “put on a show for the entire world. / The legs want to reclaim their gracefulness.” And the toes, appropriate to end with since, as John Fuller’s “An Exchange Between the Fingers and Toes” notes, they “do not aim to please” but on the other hand, er, foot, “The deepest instinct is expressed in running.”

Which this patchworked monster will begin to do, I’m sure, as soon as it catches a glimpse of its reflection . . .

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