Before the horns fall away, here’s whatthe taxidermist teaches:
Because the velvet grows onto the hide we have to skin it and cut it,so nothing rips up and causes damage.
Being cautious that we don’t give it a big yank,use your knife and just kind of pull gently.
Go on—tap the skin away from the bur.See we boned it out.
For hard boned deer we usually just kind ofbut we can’t do that when it’s in full velvet or it will, you know.
Now we’re going to put a puncture in the tip.So, we’re not just hitting the one vein.
That’s what we want to see.
When Aristotle dissected the embryos in bird eggs,he mistook the spinal cord for the heart.
Anaximander of Miletus wrote that the first humans burst out of the mouths offishand that we took form there and were held prisoners there until puberty.
At its root, taxidermy means to arrange skin.O love, how precise is any vision?
It’s also true that some whitetails never lose their velvet.Hunters raise their eyebrows calling them atypical, [End Page 356]
antlered does, cactus bucks, monsters, shirkers,ghosts, raggedy-horn freaks, because they lead
long solitary lives, unweatheredby the rutting season, because their antlers
are covered permanently in a skinthat most bucks shed in late summer,
because their velvet horns spike and slopebackwards, never hardening to pure bone,
growing ever more askew. A recent one slayedat thirty points was described as having
stickers, kickers, and a whole lot of extra junkfull of blood, hot to the human touch.
Gut a body and we’re nothing left but pipes whistling in the breeze.That’s all the cassowary is when you slit her open:
She’s lungs wrapped in dark fur. She’s a full baritone with a soft wattle.There’s nothing in her casque but soft tissue.
Because it makes me want to turn away,I watch film footage of scientists
poking through the pink tendons,the reptilian claw of the euthanized casuarius.
When they fondle the sweet spot, a talon shoots out and stabs a melonthe same as it would the appendix of a lazy zookeeper.
I had to cover my eyes when they severed the ancestral wing.Love, we are more than utility, I think.
Love, I know my body’s here when the turkey vulture comes out of the thicket,wings spread wide, smelling all of it. [End Page 357]
When talking about how the brain imagines the body, neurologists use the word“schema” to describe the little map that lies across the cortex,
sensing all our visible and invisible parts.
Some phantasms about our bodies in relationship to gender and sexualityare idealized, some degrading, some compulsory, some transgressive.
I am using this embrace, Love, to keep us here in this perceptual field.
When I focus my binoculars, Love, I am as careful as a raccoon working its way
through trash. A soda can passes as the skull of a bird, an eyehole where somebody
drank some sugar down. Love, come close. Love, lie back. Love, lie with me here
beneath a bridge where the light falling on the water shimmers upward casting
shadows on the slats beneath. When you are here, Love, I am beside myself.
If secrets are prayersthen maybe bodies
are worth revealingworth repeating
How much plumagedare I show How much down
Some days I am richas the common garter snake
with more testosteronethan you can handle
and the sweetest stenchof pheromones [End Page 358]
O small pouch O tiny nippleO lactating man
Or as the French say cyprineO Icelandic clam
And whales with lady hipsAnd dandelions in the thick grass
growing stamens growing pistilsO lion’s tooth However the wind
rips each part apart However weclone and clone and clone [End Page 359]
Jenny Johnson’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2012, Southern Review, Collagist, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere. The winner...