Lover, Heal Thyself

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By CRISTINA J. BAPTISTA
Academy of American Poets Prize Co-Winner

I.

I am putting away the dinner plate for one, reaching
into the too-high cabinet from the 1920s (this building is older
than my grandmother, but she’s dead—both grandmothers are—so the comparison
may make little or no difference, but there it is), and leaning
while on tip-toes, over the chipped tiled countertop, straining;
and my back is aching as if it had been mistaken for an archer’s bow
and someone had tried to use it.  And my toe-bones are cracking
and somewhere someone is throwing fire-crackers to celebrate a Super-Bowl
victory, and suddenly, while standing there like a ballerina balancing plates,
the kind of plates you cannot eat on but are called “plates” just the same,
with a dog spinning in a circle as her sideshow act,
although I have no dog,  I come to think:
why does “revolver” have “love” hidden in there, backwards,
cowering—poor weak child!—and crawling, tail-tucked,
away, hoping to be unseen,
to avoid the shooting?

Or maybe it is a knowing of greatness, the swollen heart, swollen
with testimony in a foreign language, where it is “doctor” in one city,
and “physician” in another; where the phantoms of long-ago people
are still ruminating in their eye-sockets and loose-limbed bones
the meaning of such words as “Physician, heal thyself.”

The Band-Aids are too out of reach.  I’m too old
for mecuricome.

What a ridiculous word, like a child’s self-revelation, a self-
revolution of independence: “me cure I,” I cure myself.  Come.

That last part is rather lovely, though.  When we are injured,
all we ever want is for someone to come.

II.

Or is it “rev, lover”?  Rev, like an engine, a motorbike,
a wild-hog, orange flames licking the backseat (that sounds dirty)
and partially obscured by the spindle flank of your acid-
wash jeans, broken at the knee.  Not torn—yes, broken—
where the kneecap sticks out like a bald newborn
all scuffed and unready.  Rev me, rev out loud, rev

until the neighbors are complaining and the cops are on their way
and the cops are in pursuit, and now, it’s the state troopers
in their champagne-colored cars with the awkward Brush Script words
that no one can read, so maybe it’s not a real car and they’re not real
state troopers and this pursuit, this chase is not real.

Rev until you’re drowned out by the sirens and my own screams
to let me down, let me off, let me sink into the rust-colored night,
dried-clay red as mecuricome tucked beneath old bandages. You peel
it up and find out that it’s darkened in time.  It’s darkened,
in the dark.  Let me go,
into the unreal.

III.

I get less action than Oscar Wilde’s tomb, which is a shabby
way of looking at things, but an honest one nonetheless.

 

There must be something wrong with me, seriously wrong,
more wrong than that time I asked my mother “what are you reading?”
and she stuffed the papers—loose, tissue-like, black-and-red inked
like beaten limbs tripping all over themselves, hands fluttering, blocking
“don’t read me!”—into the file cabinet,
and then somehow lost the key.
Seventeen years later, and she’s still lost the key.

It’s the only logical explanation
as to why I’m juggling a plate for one with as much poise
as a Degas model whose humanity has long since been touched,
fondled, tainted, painted away into some musty backdrop of men
in bowler hats that are called something else in French
and of snootily clawing cigar smoke that draws the breaths of young girls
so desperate to feel fed.  My father

used to take the tip of the small wand, the brush connected to the bottle
lid, and daintily stroke a smiley-face in that acrid mecuricome
over the cut, the scrape, the sliver, the slice; over the bang, blow.
The “boo-boo.”  A menina, he’d say in Portuguese, to his little girl,”
staring at her fixedly, as if he could make her, as she was, permanent.
“Poor child,” he’d coo. He’d wipe the knee, elbow,
finger, toe, ankle, etc. clean, give it a kiss as if nothing disgusted him—
a man who grew up in a house without water, electricity, and toothpaste—
and draw that silly thing, as if one picture’s worth a thousand ways
how not to feel the sting.