Have you ever wanted to be ideal?
Radio murmurings extol the virtues
of plastic hips, thighs, buttocks, breasts
alongside strip malls and Costcos
that stretch for miles on the I-95 corridor.
Get your bikini body today!
I still remember the neighbor
three doors down from where I grew up:
the face-lifted bruises like smeared
plums too patchy to be makeup
when we trick-or-treated that year.
When did our bodies become
such forms of injurious art?
Call now—and mention this ad for a 10% discount!
My mother told us young that
you can always tell when someone’s had
a face lift or a boob job. You can always
tell when something isn’t real.
In the right light, sometimes the skin
on my stomach looks like plastic
when I lie in the bathtub at night,
tracing the stretch marks that run
down my rib cage like pink tears
dripping from my breasts.
I can’t remember a time before
that plastic shine on my skin.
It must have existed, if only
in the family photographs
pinned on the walls of my childhood
like evidence in an investigation.
What went wrong? When did it go wrong?
Who was to blame?
First there were doctors, then nutritionists,
child psychologists, exercises specialists,
Weight Watchers, and I learned that the
contours of the flesh can diminish,
but skin never forgets where it’s been.
How many children do you have?
a massage therapist asked me once
with such confidence I almost wanted
to lie: I could have said nine
instead of none; she might
not have been more stunned.
In college, I read feminist theory
that saw power in plasticity,
agency in cosmetic surgery.
I learned to unravel the simplicity
of inherited judgment
and grapple with the knots
the real and the fake made
in their endless intertwining.
I studied images of the imperfect
amid waves of fat positivity,
disability studies, and anti-
Beauty itself was plastic.
I traced the lines on my palm,
the tickle between pages
of reading and notes.
I’ve always liked my hands.
I check my dogs’ skin several times
a day now—for ticks, warts,
potentially cancerous growths.
The one has the lightest blue skin,
the other has skin the pink of early dusk.
Sometimes, they watch my hands
at work, sometimes they sniff
or lick a suspicious spot,
even if there’s nothing there.
The softness of their flesh
always surprises me,
even ten years later:
there is nothing
so unlike plastic, nothing
so plainly perfect.
Fire & Ash
There is a constant vocabulary
of dandelions: the lion-toothed
tempo of petals curling into air and carried
across a field, a half-conscious body
bristling beneath grey fluttering
wings, helicopter seeds scattering
so many letters across the sky, the earth,
our uncomprehending eyes.
The flaming heads catch me over and over,
and all I can think to say is come here, I want
to touch you—before the night turns, before the fire
dies, and all that is left is sifting ash, falling
through my fingers like sand… Come here,
so I can whisper the smell of fire,
the taste of ash: a bald flower, bud expended
in a warmth so bright it sings.
Cooking for Dogs
Brown rice, potatoes,
rolled oats, or, in a pinch,
Cheerios, tortillas, unused pizza crust.
Chopped green beans,
Ground pork, ground beef,
boiled eggs, chicken livers,
gizzards, and sometimes hearts.
The dogs wait, perched
on the scent of meat in the air.
Drool dribbles to the parquet floor.
The pointer licks the stove,
as if to thank it in advance,
his tongue smudging clean glass.
The water dog lies down, front paws extended,
panting in the stove’s heat
and gulping the blending aromas.
My hands grip wooden spoons that churn the meat,
three pounds per batch, three batches per week,
plus powdered bone meal, lead-free, guaranteed.
The meat sizzles a browned pink,
and when I turn the burners off, the dogs
paw their steel bowls that clang like bells.