after, and before

My best friend the stegosaurus
knew that she had been forced
into a before, by the comet
which was living in the after,
burning in the atmosphere
following falling out of its home,
space, which missed it dearly
or maybe not at all, but,
unlike space, I will never recover—
call it survivor’s guilt.
She was gone before I
and the other birds
could say goodbye, and after,
the mammals told stories:

“I was in my burrow when it happened.
Before I felt the tremors,
I was sitting down for supper—
and then,
the earth shook and got hot,
and the giants screamed
and made room for me.
After the fact, the earth smelled,
worse than La Brea does
on a hot day.
Before the smell went away,
not even appetence could make me leave.
After the carcasses turned to bone,
I started going out again.”
They left their burrows
but I could not escape.

I believe in shades of grey,
lighter and lighter
like my best friend’s bones
in the sun, after the scent
of death dissolved,
until the picture disappears
and all you have is an idea of
what it could have been—
what am I looking at?
this all looks the same to me—but
I understand the appeal
of making the distinction
between the antecedent
and the aftermath.


My human skeleton is wet
with my blood, a hearty red hue
oxidized quickly but subtly
and changed from that brilliant blue.

I have cataloged the hairs that
grew from my skin, the ones that brushed
the hair on yours when we leaned in
so close and spoke in voices hushed.

So for the sake of closeness, I
peeled back my skin, pulled muscle from
bone, snapped tendons in half. “I want
you to know me,” spoken and sung.

Underneath the skin was flesh
and fat, which I love and abhor
in equal measure. I threw it,
like my other parts, on the floor.

Isn’t it strange? Below what we
see is the essential; pieces
that filter and function, lending
power, all these unpaid leases.

My stomach was never weak, not
like my useless knees around you.
It goes first. The rest of my guts
follow. My intestines askew,

I move further up, passing my
oscillating lungs and your heart,
to the mouth that knows how to kiss
you; yours, unlike mine, is like art.

That goes; then my eyes, which only
see you. That’s a lie. It feels true.
My ears are holes: All the better
to hear you. Did I overdo

it? Too late, it’s all on the ground.
Moving hands, I fit my thumbs to
my bones, the ones over your heart.
They crack; it’s not hard to break through.

The lungs gather oxygen, give
air to the heart, which pumps blood in
the vain vagrant vague voiceless veins,
makes the brain breath, lets the mouth grin.

As a child, I dreamt that I fell
and scraped my knee, and when I dared
to peel back my skin to clean it
I ripped the whole thing open. There

was pain and curiosity.
The pain was unbearable but
I couldn’t go back to not knowing.
Secrets in my knees, in my gut.

I feel the same way as my lungs
deflate, haggard and dry and spent.
Not knowing would be torturous.
I touch the heart, arteries rent,

And begin to put myself back.
For the knowledge I am better,
faster, stronger. Six million
blood cells reenter me wetter

than before. Now that I know the
shape of my skeleton, I know
how to fit you next to me,
how my hands can hold and let go.