Cleaning the Quail

You come to me dead,
limp, your body
the size of my palm.
I thought my hands were made
to shrug you from your skin,

not flake by flake,
Stevens Johnson Syndrome,
paint chips of epidermis,
not laceration,
the suppurative wound
of scurvy. Your breast
is not like an orange,
unless we are all reduced
to our simplest shapes.
Your white nerves:
the asymptote of genesis.

I am uncertain how to hold
your shoulder blades.
Were I the tiny hang-glider,
skimming your peninsulas
of down, could you deliver me
from the Norsemen?

Have we met through practice
or pattern; are we Bluebeards
swishing our wives,
who hang like limp socks
over brown loafers—-

I forget their names,
perhaps Anne, Charlotte, Dee.
Pity what lives at the beginning
of the alphabet, like the first animals
Haldane pressurized. How else
could he have known that nitrogen
knocks goats to their knees if not
for a closet of failures. Your body,

quail, fits like an elephant
in the hyperbaric chamber
of my fingers. I hold a throat
drawn with infinite triangles.

If I were good at algebra,
I could predict a future
quiet in passing. I could pretend
you are sleeping, quail—
your head droops
with what thoughts
you give to escape.

Helena Bell graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 2008 with an MFA in Poetry. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Strange Horizons, Margie Review, and other journals. She currently lives in St. Louis and attends law school at Washington University.


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