Monday Mar 27

LambethLaurie Laurie Clements Lambeth’s debut collection Veil and Burn (U of Illinois P, 2008) was selected by Maxine Kumin for the 2006 National Poetry Series. Recent work appears in Crazyhorse, Zone 3, Seneca Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and Bellevue Literary Review, where Tina Chang selected her poem for BLR’s poetry prize. Lambeth’s poems have been recently anthologized in Beauty is a Verb and A Face to Meet the Faces. Concurrently working on a memoir and her second poetry collection, she teaches Medicine and Society courses in the University of Houston’s Honors College.

A Trace
for Jacques Derrida

So when she told us she once pronounced
your name Dareeda, I thought Doritos,
their flatness. How easily broken. Salty, even.
She had said, “who’s this Dareeda guy, anyway,”
addressing a poster on a door at UCLA.

Everybody around the table laughed and laughed
as she told the story. I laughed, too, but was unfamiliar,
and joined them only because they were laughing.
I thought again of Doritos, a big bag. You might
find all this meaningless, but let me tell you

about the tiny blue and white cups on the black table,
the deep black couches at Sushi on Sunset,
the couples hidden in dim corners, the hands.
Those cups held only a thimble of sake,
so lifting and sipping felt like a tea party.

I was shrinking, so thin this felt right, warmed the gut
just enough. Comforting to know my food was small,
spirals of rice with bright colored centers, bound
tight by bands of kelp. I wanted to be that size,
put together that way. Do you think even sushi

could be dismantled before being eaten? Literally?
When would it cease to be sushi? Could the body,
bone blades hanging the flesh, be separated, sorted,
categorized before the autopsy, the ossuary? Ash?
If only, I thought, I could be that small without

dismantling, to fade to a slip of a girl, a trace.
You know that line from Sunset Boulevard,
Norma Desmond clinging to her faded stardom—
I am big. It’s the pictures that got small. I wanted
nothing more than to be static in the thinnest part

of the shaft between projector and screen.
Not a star, but shaped like one, and shadowy.
In my throat, something felt substantial, thick. The bites
took their time going down. This, my day’s one meal.
Did you ever like sushi? I can’t bear to eat it anymore.

The Paw

Weeks cast and wrapped
into a paw, the way a foot
can be bound and broken

into a slow, unsteady hoof,
the hand is at last unwrapped,
released to bright air, cool

between fingers. Still, it aches
to curl, fingers once nothing
more than claws, or rather

useless tentacles bent, hinged
from a single, bandaged source.
They cling to each other

in the sticky crevices
as though sweat were glue.
I can talk about them this way

because two are still numb,
their nerve severed and sewn,
and they can't hear me yet.

When cued to extend reach
even the elbow and wrist
bend inward with the hand,

venturing only slightly.
They peek to test what once pained
like an electric shock. It seems

rational for them to prefer safety,
so I seldom ask them to try.
I worry that someday the body

will follow, curl shut entirely
like armadillos, hedgehogs, or
pill bugs once touched.

But that's for another day.
As a child I rolled those bugs
around with sticks, knocked

them against each other
to see how fast they'd go,
curl or unfurl. The hand now

imprisons itself from pain
as they did, protective, closed
from the one who might harm it,

waiting, maybe, for its next stage
of evolution, casting new form—
still not trusting its master.