Previous Theories on the Body

posted Oct 5, 2010

First, you thought the body was shackles you needed
to break. Each night, you smashed
it in a smoky room with Dean on the jukebox
and a tumbler of anger in your hand.

Next, you thought it was a motel.
You were only passing through, able to step out
whenever bored. By the time you returned,
you figured, the cleaning crew would have straightened up—
new plastic cups sitting by the sink.

You wanted it to be a piece of art, something
a careful hand had shaped from the mud
and fired in a kiln—these eyes and lips,
this glaze made perfect with a thin, thin brush.

If the body was art, society was a gallery.
If society was a gallery, you were the thief,
for you walked away
with the sculpture everyone said was you.

All of this was before
you held the hand of the one you loved
as she lay in a hospital bed. Tubes shuddered
in all directions. Wires connected skin
to screen, as if the body
was a circuit fighting to stay lit.

You heard a voice that might’ve
been yours.What’s wrong? What’s wrong?
The doctors, a chorus of: We don’t know.
We’re not sure.  We think it might be the—

Now, you believe the body is a theater
of small machines. The heart plays the lead,
but the gears are famous for improv—

Where’s the director when you want the truth?
A curtain could fall. A sandbag could burst.

Matthew Olzmann's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Salt Hill, Margie, and other journals. He is a Kundiman Fellow and a writer-in-residence for the InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

We’ve published two more poems by Olzmann: “The Skull of a Mastodon” and “The Gallery of Pendulums.”