Thursday, August 25, 2011


Self-Portrait as Woman

Before they came for me, I exfoliated in white wine,
watched the glass empty itself like it had every
time before, watched the way my hands exposed
the blue-red veins beneath the skin, how my
fingers would keep moving, touching buttons
or peeling the label from the bottle, or reach
for an invisible choke in the air, grasp, release
nothing. I had waited a long time for their smiles,
their long arms, white teeth. I had waited a long
time to be held like that in someone’s arms,
as if being lifted for the first time. And they took
me, carried me into a place where my body
disappeared slowly into grains of paint, colors
and canvas. There I was able to watch them all,
my hair never blowing up in the wind, the wine
bottle on the table before me never opening,
never spilling, their faces before me large, eerie,
my ability to see more in their pores
                                                                             than they in me.

Self-Portrait of a Mortician

When my cousin was young, she broke
into a window of an neighbor’s home
to steal a bracelet she had noticed
on a table, and instead found the woman

dead on her bed, her limbs grey-blue
and bruised, her mouth open in an
un-uttered vowel. Surprise or ache,
my cousin always urged both.

What she remembered were the green
eyes, the fingers pointing to the floor,
the smell of the body, like it had soaked
in sewer water and lilacs, the woman’s

night gown lifted to her chest,
her soft belly tugged over the elastic
of her panties, her breasts uncovered,
slack with gravity. The first woman

my cousin ever saw naked had died
of an asthma attack before turning
out the light for bed. Years later,
my cousin works in a mortuary,

helping families move through grief
and I still can’t stop gazing at the dead
bodies. At every funeral I look for it -
a color, a breath, a nudge. The smell

my cousin described, movement. But,
there are no sweet smells or mixtures
or jolts of casket wheels. I can see
myself in the waxed surfaces,

looking. Just a squint, wishing I could
knead the skin of these bodies with
my own hands, to reshape them,
to pull an arm up and to lift a leg,

to sit them into rocking chairs,
help them recline on soft couches,
imagining my cousin must forget
to wear her rubber gloves

as she undresses each body,
wipes it down, remolds the wounds,
hides the bruises, imagining
the dead could somehow become

animated once more, if only
we’d keep massaging, touching,
if only we’d just stop looking.

About Mary Stone Dockery:
Mary Stone Dockery's poetry and prose is forthcoming or has appeared in kill author, Gargoyle, Foundling Review, Midwestern Gothic and many other fine journals. She is the 2011 recipient of the Langston Hughes Award in poetry, is co-editing founder of Stone Highway Review, co-edits Blue Island Review, and reads for Gemini Magazine, in addition to writing micro reviews for Portal del Sol. She lives, writes, and loves in Lawrence, KS.

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