Flesh by Phoebe Nicholson

I have always suspected
for the most part
that when they pare me open
on the autopsy table,
I will leak clear water,
salt-smelling, the sea.
That I am all sponge and stone –
thick through, solid flesh.

Or, at most, a cluster of busy creatures
under my pelt of skin
who turn wheels, pull strings,
creak open hatch-doors and ladders,
complaining when I run too long
or eat too much.

I have seen pictures in books of
other people.
How they look inside with their muscles
a bristle of coral,
swathes of it splayed like wings
across their back,
their bones spearing,
the bows of their ligaments which
snap their limbs straight,
the sockets, the rolling joints.

I have learned how they start
as a clot of vessels, a mosslump,
a knuckle of gristle –
then grow kneecaps and nails,
learn to move their head, kick
and swallow.
The fontanelle shifts and hardens.

I have studied cysts and smokers’ lungs,
how their bodies will rust like old houses,
the cables brittle,
a bundle of rope at the throat,
their evolution dissolving.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe
I work the same.
I move as an automaton,
a constant beating drum.

Until today –
I crack my tooth on an apple.
The dentist shows me the X-ray
of the teeth lined in my jaw.
The sinews I have never seen
clamp them fast.
I see in the cross-section
the backs of my nostrils, hard,
a hint of the bundle of rope
at my throat.

My bones burn inside me.
I see myself for the first time:
a mute skeleton.
A jaw clacking open and closed.

26 March 2016

Phoebe Nicholson is a poet and trainee lexicographer usually based in Oxford but temporarily living in the windswept Belgian coastal town of Ostend. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and e-zines, including The Fractured Nuance, The Interpreter’s House, and Words Dance. She also edits the Catweazle Magazine, a quarterly arts magazine currently in its third year, inspired by the long-running Oxford performance night (catweazleclub.com)

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