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Risa Denenberg


The chest x-ray reveals a cloud of cough.
A cough confesses less than green sputum.
Lungs lodged with CO2 all night may forget to breathe.
The instinct is to measure everything.
Here is this carbon copy of what I am.
Slices of brain or lungs on these images tell me nothing.

I itch to cut myself open and have a look.


Once you've seen it, you don't forget. An explosion of blood spurting from skin lesions. Black eyeliner half-moons beneath. There's lots of blood in the body, enough for ordinary time. Think of bats who suckle tiny baby bats under wrinkled wings. Winters, they breed in warm wet places where the most treacherous parasites flourish, but summers, they return. Environment is relative. I'm pushing away thought. Tonight I helped someone to die, we all need help at times, and later, driving home, the image of Ebola, of bats, her pallid body drained of blood.


makeshift crosses + plastic flowers + tatty teddy bears signify
crumpled caravans frozen at a four-way
somewhere near Delphi

somewhere near hell
somewhere near an oracle who sleeps, who snores, who refuses to prophesy
teeth crammed with golden sparks of butterscotch drops

the fresh dead, their broken parts rest
in shallow berths, sleeper cars, small enough for nurslings
chambers where forms float, flicker, disappear
departing on God's schedule

we are the leftbehind
corpulent meters of future landfill
caverns of land filled with bioform
neither alive nor dead, atom or Adam

we sprawl loutishly
artlessly lay our bodies on the track
toss a bent penny to consecrate the grave

Bimbo, deer

For she had no body odor and lay motionless
beside the dead doe, and so
you took her home and fed her goat's milk.

This you did: collared and tethered her, a pet
wandering a yard strewn with cars on blocks
among old oil tanks.

Your darling: adopted, broken, stroked, chosen.
And who am I, trussed and bound to a fault line,
who shadowed not her own mother, nor knows
how she was meant to be.


A small girl is in bed. She clutches
pink satin. See the wrinkled thumb
tucked in her mouth.

The child dreams of a yellow pencil
with lead dull as a butter knife,
pink eraser nub worn away by friction.

Do not interpret this dream.
Why not crumple it, toss it out, forget it?
As a memory handled by a fist.

If you fancy parables, read her Bible stories.
Tell her this one: Lot's daughters
fucked their father to preserve his seed,

all three claiming that he was drunk
and knew not whom he was sticking his dick into.
Weren't these sisters just like every daddy's girl

who longs to give her father everything she has,
every egg, ripe or not,
every breast–budding, lactating, drooping?

History of Fragments

Particulars: Yellow stepstool, attic dormer
where I grew secret breasts, kitchen where
Zayde placed a lump of sugar between rotten
teeth and dissolved it with hot black tea slurped
from a jelly glass.

Legend: Summer of '69, a man called Dwight
became paralyzed sitting in front of a Swanson
TV dinner and had to be carried away. He couldn't
answer the question: Do I like peas, or not?

Unreliable narrator: Battered shack deep
in the North Florida panhandle, newborn swathed
in newspaper on cement floor, not breathing.
A six-year old girl opens her mouth, finds no words.

Insight: When I was fired, she said
You lack insight. This seemed laughable.
But how would I know? I barely remember
when music could thaw my bones.

Detail: In bed, I caress my earlobe, easy flesh.
So much like the pink satin edge on my blankie;
sucking my thumb—sucking, sucking, sucking
until mother painted it with foul-tasting unguent.

Query: More and more alone, I wrestle in circlets,
eager to place the 7 of hearts on top of the 8 of hearts.
I count cards in my sleep.

(Was I the girl he fondled?)

➥ Bio