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In Full Velvet

From: New England Review
Volume 34, Number 3-4, 2014
pp. 356-359 | 10.1353/ner.2014.0042

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Before the horns fall away, here’s what
the 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 of
but 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 of
and 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,

antlered does, cactus bucks, monsters, shirkers,
ghosts, raggedy-horn freaks, because they lead

long solitary lives, unweathered
by the rutting season, because their antlers

are covered permanently in a skin
that most bucks shed in late summer,

because their velvet horns spike and slope
backwards, never hardening to pure bone,

growing ever more askew. A recent one slayed
at thirty points was described as having

stickers, kickers, and a whole lot of extra junk
full 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 melon
the 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.

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 sexuality
are 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 prayers
then maybe bodies

are worth revealing
worth repeating

How much plumage
dare I show How much down

Some days I am rich
as the common garter snake

with more testosterone
than you can handle

and the sweetest stench
of pheromones

O small pouch O tiny nipple
O lactating man

Or as the French say cyprine
O Icelandic clam

And whales with lady hips
And dandelions in the thick grass

growing stamens growing pistils
O lion’s tooth However the wind

rips each part apart However we
clone and clone and clone

Jenny Johnson  

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 of Beloit Poetry Journal’s Chad Walsh Poetry Prize in 2011 for her poem “Aria...

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