“Flower in a Jar“ (1689)
the only thing I’ll say about this poem
is that it’s about human tissue, also
that you’ll never forget it
though difficult perhaps, it is entirely
worth the journey – not only through
the stylistic thickets it might present
technically, but amongst the assorted
“homuncul[i]” it more substantially,
even clinically, describes – for the
spotlight it presses onto our world,
not to mention its own manifest
alliteration, for instance, the limpid
lilting of its language, hand in hand
with its kindred, and complicit,
onomatopoeia, enumeration, prismatic
facets of an idea like aspects of an
iridescent gem, vivid, vital metaphors,
apt allegories, the very literary lot, to
relay a big picture, then an even bigger
picture, then a transcendence, an
expression of very grace, poetry
of the very highest order, of which
even a Homer, I warrant, would sing
“Tissue Gallery“, my poem of,
at least, the year, and likely in my
that’s, as I said, “the only thing I’ll
say about this poem”
On the fifth floor
of the medical school,
sequestered from public view,
a black slab lab table
lined with old apothecary jars and twist-top jars
sealed with paraffin wax,
a shoal of not-fish treading bronzy water,
each homunculus labelled
in terms of in-utero days and weeks.
In this jarscape, a palm-size one
sitting with legs crossed,
arms raised protectively,
clasping the top of his head
like a child expecting blows in a parental brawl,
and this golem, a perfect mini-person,
holds fingers curved lightly in front of him,
as if playing a piano chord,
and this quelque chose has blackened soles –
in the womb,
a douen meant to range the barefoot forest,
those faceless stillborn and early-dead children with backward feet,
who lure human playmates to the woods
and fill their always hungry mouths with little crabs.
All casualties are clipped
with yellowed plastic navel clamps
that look like bones.
Here are twins, one larger than the other,
with hydrocephalitic-fissured face
and this one’s wrinkly forehead,
the face of a worried eighty-year-old concentrating
on his death, an extra epaulette flap on his shoulder,
as if he is sprouting wings;
triplets like three piglets,
one with lots of hair,
one with cauliflower, puckered ear,
one with a purple-black hand reaching out of the water,
as if in hope to be rescued from drowning.
The thirty-six-weekers are not stored in glassware.
A perfect pair, girl and boy, are on separate cookie baking sheets,
wrapped in sterile pads, their swaddling blankets.
They are not desiccated, withered, mummified,
quick-frozen, frost-nipped, or sealed in wax.
They look like leatherette dolls in mid-kick stop-motion animation,
as if they’d only now stopped breathing.
Girl was a low birth weight,
vagina snapped as tightly shut as the seam of a walnut.
Boy is not the color of life, a rich-colored brown boy
bleached-out to plasticine-pale, dun-white.
Still, on his cheek-ear-hair, the almost feel of life.
The abdomen is caved in,
and the testicles are paper-thin, black, crumpled leaves.
Some in the grey jars were named and tagged on the wrist.
I was told that I cannot tell you the names.
It is a secret between the women
and these medical anomalies.
One is named for a hurricane.
The resto muertos have closed eyes and African features.
They were not colorfast,
so the chemicals have bleached them to albino.
The women, who came with gravid uterus to Puerto Rico
from the Virgin Islands, seeking to save or end pregnancies,
do not know that the small ones are still here
curled in their womb poses,
in its lit-glass aquarium,
lolling in solvent tinted the color of beer, brandy, honey, oil, or perfume.
These small floating gods in primer paint, never to be besprinkled
with blessed water to help them cross over,
never to evaporate, dust-scatter, or waste — they are here and not here!
What is the shelf-life of the unborn?
In the Caribbean, women must travel
from island to island
to get needed health care,
and so these doodads
were not carried home but donated,
no one knows how long ago.
I have been invited here by a doctor who loves the arts,
and whom I like.
I was told beforehand only that I would be seeing human tissue.
He proposes collaboration, an artistic public exhibition
of these impossible children,
who will never utter “peacock,”
“confetti,” “crazy quilt,” “cashmere,” or “soap.”
Monster Midway. Gaff joints. Shell games. Sideshow piebald children.
Human oddities and the science of teratology.
At home, I whisper to the midnight page,
Women of the Virgin Islands, Sistren,
I saw them, and they are okay.
Your small ones are still on Earth!
Loretta Collins Klobah