from james ithing 190
Every soul has unlikely ways
of abiding and resisting your full
becoming – ironic your problem,
at age eight, was suddenly
a long-stemmed pink carnation;
the kind you get at the dentist
whether you’ve been good or not.

You get a toothbrush, sugar-free
candy, and a stunning moment
of prophesy. First, there was
the x-ray technician, radiant
with kindness, giving permission,
so you spoke to her out loud;

I’m afraid in this place,
don’t leave the room. Sing for me
the way you hum.

You liked the certain weight
of the lead apron, not the cotton
in your mouth, or the wicked,
unearthly smell of false mint.

But she left you for another,
left you with the grandfather
clock, ticking in the hall.

I miss my real grandpa, our boat
rides in mountain lakes. He said
to look over the side. He promised
that whatever I saw was mine.

I saw pillars of light
and a single drop of water
fell from the wooden oar.
One time I leaned so far
my hair touched the water
and grandpa smiled, knowing
I found something I didn’t
have to tell about. What
is this, falling from my chin?

I’ll catch the spit, so nothing
drips on the clean, blue cloth
snapped around my neck.
I’m supposed to be good.
What does that even mean?

The receptionist is pretty,
I’m butt ugly. I’ll shove this
glaring light out of my face.
Nobody better stop me. So what
if I have a lame, half-numb
smile. I’ll be numb again
when mom reminds me she
lost teeth, and I only needed
a filling. Dad will ask me

‘How is my princess?’
but it won’t be a question.
I want the lead apron back,
and the x-ray person who left.
I want the receptionist to say
I’ll be pretty someday; I miss
Grandpa. I can’t stop crying
in my heart. Why can’t I speak?

No answer came, because
it was high noon with pink
carnations.

Maybe you took yours with
an angry fist, or threw it on
the floor, or balanced it
elegantly between any two
fingers; it all looked fake,

but defiance and pride
kept it the right distance
from the rest of you, while
your piercing eyes bargained
with places unexplored, until
your exquisite eight-year-old
arm lifted it to a simple
claimed breath.

Yes, sweet child, nobody
explained; flowers from dentists
are complicated; this one not

your favorite color, unexpected
in keen fresh spice.
You’ll wonder all your life
what you earned from the round
burgundy vase in the room
where everyone waits.
Wombs are like that too.

J.L. Cooper: a prose version was published in Tic Toc, an anthology
Kind of a Hurricane Press