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Jean Kane

The Sense of Where One Body Is

#1. The woman who lost her proprioception loved to ride in an open car.

The wind blowing across her face helped her recall

the sense of body-is, the are

of placement without looking at the part—the limb

as more than mechanism.  A watch turning

on gold teeth.  Notch 

by notch, she had to learn to wear each moving bit. 


 # 2.  In a different condition, less brutal, one senses

 the severed body she grew among, the many bodies

making her.  What shape does the remainder take

when some is gone?  Where does the press

of being come from, minus one?   

#3.  Not amputation.

#4.  Not epistemological, the question.

#5.  One raucous shape, a pillowcase, that never

came apart. Grotesque

flesh sack bulging in all directions.

#6.   To whom do I apologize?  

Photo on Coarse Paper: Lisbon Prisoners Forced to Hood Together (1913)

The sacks scratch.  Each one makes

a stub, a show

of dumb gongs struck 

with slingshot holes.  Plugged up,

wiped of other features. Together the group hovers “somewhere

between granite and evanescence.”

Light slashes through the drapes 

to make a charcoal dog, a finger necklace,

a bib forehead, a sorrow seal, 

a jaw swallowed by a yawn gone dark.    

This is the moment before their ceremonial 

return, unbagged recognition.

I thumb off

your brows, lids, mouth.  

Look away from the smooth knob.

Making a Stink

I huffed oil paint

like glue.  With turpentine

and linseed fumes, it plunged

me into sense, 

a folding out.  The thrill

knuckled under no solid.

I can’t locate that precise

odor any longer.  Paint doesn’t 

smell the same.  Perhaps, I’m told,

because of danger.  New didactics

note the minerals that masters used to grind

in the raw were often lethal to breathe.

History’s poison infuses thick 

promise, cigar smoke and bus exhaust, 

mercurochrome’s scraped air.  

Mothballs’ secret closets. What’s the trade?  

As if a scruple could prevent  

the disasters that barreled over me


X and Years after

Christmas trees line the street all January, even to Lent, gone by Easter.  They lie on their sides in and out of bags, sticking up from the rails around plots that pose as gardens on city blocks.  No pine is more dead than it was when the trunk was chopped down and split off.  “They’re all from Canada,” my husband said.  Every year we spent together had they floated down the Hudson in bundles or in lines.  I didn’t check facts: I saw the trees pushed off by red jacketed loggers.  

Now my neighbors snap off branches as if they had never loved the pines.  Arrange them over the naked dirt, pretending to protect it.  The dirt makes a layer between us and the steaming grid underneath.  Wires spark through winter.

I like the trees, half out of bags, a kind of kin, between in and out.  He left long ago before years glassed and became easy to slip over.  This snow bristles in the particular way of needles.  In Canada, the loggers, their quotas of gashes filled and their fingers chapped, rest their axes. 


There are four words for wonder

in Arabic.  If I knew two,

                  would I get the trick of it?  I got a letter

with four seals on the lip.

                                             Objects have their lives 

away from us—on counterpanes, in corners,

            their own attentiveness apart.  Surprise

comes when people I once knew

wear themselves as a disguise.  I know him—but the sack

                                                                of the name attached to him

 goes flat, the souls of those

 I’s and thou’s.

puzzling rubbish.  The letter whispers.  

                         It says, better glance 

at the plaster head two floors up, one window over, that might 

                     be a pitcher regarding me


                 while it wells

                                with something else.

Better to intimate a wooden desk

                 scuffed on the street, embracing noon 

somewhat half-heartedly.

Jean Kane teaches at Vassar College, currently in a tent. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Prairie Schooner, the Georgia Review, 3:AM, and American Short Fiction online. Her book of poems, Make Me, was published by Otis Nebula.

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