by Emilie Menzel
[It is unseemly]
It is unseemly to blow your nose into a tablecloth. If you share a
bed with another man, keep still. If you pass a person pissing, do
not greet him. Never masturbate with your bare hands. Never
expose yourself unless necessary. Refrain from poking your ears
while eating. If you spit, put your foot on the saliva. Do not spit so
far that you have to search for the saliva.
You are exhibiting your body like an arrogant bird, pretending
your wing is broken because something must be broken, your
wing is freshly broken. You are hopping for display, a loon
long-necked, sad and spotted all over. Your little anxious habit,
trying. Your head fully foggy. You are watching
yourself watching. A mere romance of a mannequin. Some social
scavenger, you carver! Some desirable, you carver!
Tall fishes in black dress. Ravens assembled for performative
mourning. You are not supposed to feel so torn. You should be
thankful for your range of human emotion. You should be thankful
for how much you lost in losing one another, how grief-mouthed
and slouching. How ratty at the ears. What’s the right word for
beast when a wolf passes through? What’s the right word for beast
when the mountain passes through? A woman by water with her
foot in dark water. The man a barracuda, she put him in braces.
The bite in the bite and the matter of whom.
Is love real even when imagined? Is love enough when only
imagined? I am the boy who still breastfeeds in shame. I am all of
my children who will never be born. I step on my violin, show up
to rehearsal unprepared, perform the solo in wavering wilted tones.
I do not want to have given you this gift, this wealth of
bereavement. But I carry this with me. Every day I carry this. How
you knew I was a stone who could be surrounded, how you curled
my own body like a favorite grey mountain, how you crooned for
me only like a snowy white owl. You were keeping me broken,
you wanted me broken, you kept me broken to keep me here, and I
performed. I folded with acrobatics and love for my audience. I
convinced myself, because I so wanted to be loved, to be loveable,
to be loved.
And the day begins with feeling this lonely, with trying to make
the sense pathological to remove my own culpability. I have been
complicit with loneliness, slanted planes of light, a constant
approach and readjustment of form. Do I feel lonely or do I feel
pressured? Shaken face if I stay on my own. There’s too much
light in this room. There’s too much hurt in this room. These
rooms now pull me open, carve my face with butter knives, with
trees, keep me a soldier for a long long time.
Fistfuls of skin, unrobe the hood. You kick at me
your own dark eyes. Sometimes it is easiest to stuff my hands in my ears.
Sometimes it is easiest to cut off my ears. Sometimes it is easiest to
ignore my ears. But here you are — perform. I knew what is it to
hold the edge of another’s soft cheek, to find another thumb near to
mine. We moved in a wildness of skin with your curled hair in my
curled fist, the snarling animal a hand that lifted me and left.
*Poet’s Note: Stanza one is a compilation of adapted quotes from Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process.
Emilie Menzel is a poet and writer whose work seeks to engage both creative and analytical properties of language. Her words have recently appeared in Black Warrior Review: Boyfriend Village, Trestle Ties, and on the sides of Boston’s T-cars, amongst other locations. Emilie is the recipient of the Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award in Poetry (selected by Diana Khoi Nguyen) and the Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction (selected by Leigh Newman). She completed her MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Raised amongst the doldrums of Georgia summers, Emilie currently lives in wooded North Carolina and online @emilieideas.