224: Birthday Poem
by Paisley Rekdal
It is important to remember that you will die,
lifting the fork with the sheep’s brain
lovingly speared on it to the mouth: the little
piece smooth on the one side as a baby
mouse pickled in wine; on the other, blood-
plush and intestinal atop its bed of lentils.
The lentils were once picked over for stones
in the fields of India perhaps, the sun
shining into tractor blades slow moving
as the swimmer’s arms that pierce,
then rise, then pierce again the cold
water of the river outside your window called
The Heart or The Breast, even, but meaning
something more than this, beyond
the crudeness of flesh, though what
is crude about flesh anyway, watching yourself
every day lose another bit of luster?
It is wrong to say one kind of beauty
replaces another. Isn’t it your heart
along with its breast muscles that
has started to weaken; solace
isn’t possible for every loss, or why else
should we clutch, stroke, gasp, love
the little powers we once were born with?
Perhaps the worst thing in the world
would be to live forever.
Otherwise, what would be the point
of memory, without which
we would have nothing to hurt
or placate ourselves with later?
Look. It is only getting worse
from here on out. Thank God. Otherwise
the sun on this filthy river
could never be as boring or as poignant,
the sheep’s brain trembling on the fork
wouldn’t seem once stung
by the tang of grass, by the call
of some body distant and beloved to it
still singing through the milk. The fork
would be only a fork, and not the cool
heft of it between your fingers, the scratch
of lemon in the lentils, onions, parsley
slick with blood; food that,
even as you lift it to your mouth,
you’d never thought you’d eat. And do.
"Birthday Poem" by Paisley Rekdal, from IMAGINARY VESSELS by Paisley Rekdal, copyright © 2016 Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.