[Before I saw him]
Joan Larkin

Before I saw him

I felt his blind cane digging

for purchase in my chest. I

was the road. Rocks, gnarled roots,

sudden hissing. I was the town

on the mountain, not drug sleep

in a fifth-floor walkup. What was death

to him? He had force I couldn’t argue,

pressed the cane stubborn into my chest.

Then I saw him: screen door open,

cancer body in thin pajamas,

snow up to his knees, smiling.

[Tongue begun]

Tongue begun,

brainbud within the bud,

fist unopened, spine

curled like a question


was it? Dark clot

flushed down,

squiggle of ink

curdled in seawater,

old round stone

flung into my pond.

Sunk there.


The baby’s fastened to his mother’s stomach

chewing seeds, high up in liquid heat. Blow darts

in hollowed shafts of cane make the best monkey-hunting––

so quiet you can drop two or three before they hear.

The meat’s tough as rubber and smells like rot.

It’s hard stripping off their fur with a knife,

piling them pink and naked, set to boil. Some nights

in green hell there’s nothing to eat but a bowl of thin

monkey broth. Some nights Cook howls in his sleep

as they come toward him whinnying, raising their knife.

Joan Larkin’s new poetry collection is Blue Hanuman, published in 2014 from Hanging Loose Press. Among her previous books, My Body: New and Selected Poems received the Audre Lorde Award. She is currently the Grace Hazard Conkling Writer in Residence at Smith College.

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