Body Remembers: | Marlena Chertock

congealing into miniscule form
in a uterus, four limbs,
10 appendages, but one letter
switched in the COL2A1 gene.
An amino acid wrongly substituted.

not correctly
how to create type II collagen.
The collagen in joints,
inner ear, vertebrae,
and the jelly of the eyes.

growing up scared of retina
detaching, a curtain suddenly
falling down from nowhere,

in Baltimore after a long
flight from Israel, with a cold.
All of these didn’t work:
plugging nose and blowing,
yawning, swallowing,
even the nice flight attendant
who brewed tea but tossed it,
pushed the warm tea bags
deep into styrofoam cups
and placed them over ears.
Tears could have refilled
the cups. The next week
body remembers
the world muffled,
50 percent hearing lost.

to fit inside molds
for 22 hours a day
from ages 11 to 13.
These molded braces
didn’t stop serpent spine
from slithering into larger spirals.
On summer camp nights,
sweat stuck to skin
and the styrofoam padding
while trying to sleep —
at the front of the tent
a half-broken fan meagerly
sending relief.

in bed
for a week
when back
became a tangled rubber band ball.
Breathing was sharp paper clips
stabbing abdomen.
The tangled clump of office supplies
in lower left back
confusingly tied rubber bands
too tightly around right foot.
Losing all feeling in right toes.

autosomal dominant —
the need to survive.

Marlena Chertock is the Poetry Editor for District Lit and a graduate of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. Her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cacti Fur, Crab Fat, Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, The Little Patuxent Review, Paper Darts, Straight Forward Poetry, and The Syzygy Poetry Journal. Find her at or @mchertock.


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