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Thistles mock all, growing . . .
in a heap of broken glass with last year’s soot.
—Genevieve Taggard, “American Farm, 1934”

In the moments after she has told the patient he has cancer, the prognosis threatening to slit the room’s throat, papers and charts in her hands and he, silent, looks up—who is she? Which of the great plaited gorges of self manage the words that must cross from diaphragm to tongue and settle like the dusty yellow stamen of the amaryllis in its own red home? The summer I called out in my sleep for Scotland, she swerved to a stop on the highway, wrapped her hands in an old sweatshirt and, down in the muck of the ditch, sawed at the barbed stalks of thistles with a house key. We used to spin around the dinner table with forks in our hands and even the galloping pup could not squeal louder than we, lithe little dog who would mark her arms with his dying on the roadside in the wake of a hurtling pickup. It’s all right, she said of the bites below her elbow, scarred soft now as apricots, he didn’t mean to hurt. The man in her office lurches as if to retch but instead stretches his arm across my sister’s desk to fling the picture frame, ceramic cup, stack of files wide, his wife saying, Sal, stop! Sal! The clattering may have gone on forever. My sister knows this is what sound the soul makes, sent in a flurry to the floor. No matter how she manages it, I cannot stop seeing her hands, how they stripped thistles for the sake of my lost heart, how they want to reach for Sal, and can’t. How each tip of each finger, round as the head of a stethoscope, thumb like a thrombocyte, beats and beats and beats again.

This poem was first published by Awst Press; all rights revert to the author upon publication.

Susanna Childress

Susanna Childress has published two books of poetry and has a book of lyric essays and fragments titled Extremely Yours forthcoming from Awst Press. She teaches at Hope College and lives near the western shore of Lake Michigan with her partner Joshua Banner, two dogs, and three children.

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