The Surgeon’s Wife (poem)

Catherynne M. Valente penned this poem.

I have nothing left to give you.
I am shoeless and poor.
Earthy-toed rainwater trickles through a hole in my tongue
burned there by ragged incantations and
gangrenous hunger.
Am I awake tonight because of this hole?
This warbling void,
This absence of slick or pink?

Because of it I cannot taste salt.

Do my teeth still slip along its corpulent edges
feeling for flesh that is gone?
The sound and sulk of my lack rumbles
the want which nameless stalks on feline feet
the pulse of air through a leafless forest of fingers
the bruised purple of heels naked to the grinning hallways
the membrane of thirst on splintered lips.

Do you want these holes, these flagellations?
These gnomish elbows, these candlewax knees?
The grime of a thousand sun-backed toads clings
to my hair—
is this a woman, with bees in her earlobes,
is this a woman, with ink in her nails,
is this a woman, with mud on her calves,
is this a woman at all?

Or is she a pillar of ash and wet moon-slippery foam
with need carved into the hollows of her wrists?
Would you eat the mushrooms that spring like
darkly glowering lilies from her footsteps?

I have nothing to give you
I am grim-fingered and tired.
I need a new skin,
But what room closes up
our dozen, two dozen
crisp-shining elbows and knees?
I cannot even guess at the door.

The bones of my feet are showing through,
my belly has lost its shine in patches
and I chew salad greens with hollow teeth.
I have nothing, nothing.
The beauty that was for you
boiled over and splashed across a checkered floor.
What floats between the golden globes of bedside lamps
is the face of a gaunt moon,
bare bone,
white as a veil,
and cartilage like clouds.

About Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don’t always.

It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we’ve donedone the centuries.