A woman read a poem about her right breast. It was severed in a raid on her village. She had looked down on her right breast in the dust and seen that it was lonely. Her words. Her right breast had been the breast she most often put the mouths of her children to. She then said that her children are the beginning of all children, that one child is every child, and so this lonely right breast on the ground had fed a world. It is all one suckling. My words. Her voice got smaller and smaller as she read, as if the microphone had reversed its thinking about sound, as if a dot [End Page 38] were trying to name itself, and I leaned forward with the everyone leaning forward, we were trees that had been raised by wind, and when she said she had picked up the lonely breast and wrapped it in cloth, I became the ripping feeling of a sheet of paper removed from a notebook by a drowning man who writes, "I'm ready to take those swimming lessons now." There was nowhere to go and I didn't know what to do with the hands of my eyes if machetes are how the world I touch by looking touches us back. There was wine after and chatter and circular brushing of bodies in the crowd like we were one big washing machine talking about poetry, about dictators and human rights and the tiny, endangered species of crab puffs disappeared so tasty quickly, they were gone and we were going and I walked to my car with a man and stars and the chardonnay feeling of France in my blood, when the man said his tongue knew the woman's right breast and it's where it belongs. He offered this intimacy casually and while opening his door, which he leaned against while detailing their affair, then pulled away and I was left with crickets saying "sure sure" in their pulse-speech that was no help in resolving the various breast claims, one of severing and one of touch. I got on the hood of my car, that great and moveable couch, and looked up, which is the direction our questions seem to favor, how often do you look sideways and ask, what's it all mean, that's an up question for sure. Some of the other leaving people came over and assumed I was still overcome by the poem, one of them joined me on the couch of my car, she took out a smoke and we passed a bit of North Carolina between us, a bit of the glowing fields, and I thought of how this fire was the sun let loose, sun that had touched the tobacco and made it grow, sun that would give us flavor and cancer unknowing, and she went on and on and I went on and on in the galloping way of our kind. Then the host and poet [End Page 39] came out, when I said "great reading" and the woman beside me said "great reading" and the poet dropped her head and resurrected it, a modest bow. I have never stared so honestly at a woman's chest, with such a hard-on for the truth, but I couldn't tell and she left, the woman beside me left, there's so much of that going around, the leaving. I was alone, which is an arrogant thing to say given the trees, the bats, and I thought, if not her breast then someone's, and likely not just one but many someones, whole fields of fallen breasts, whole lives of carrying what is missing, and at least now, that missing is attached to words, the only threads that hold us here.
Bob Hicok’s fifth book, This Clumsy Living, will be published in the spring of 2007 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. He recently won American Poetry Review’s Jerome J. Shestack Prize and the Anne Halley Prize from Massachusetts Review.