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  • Visitation, and: Paracusia, and: Rapture Day
  • Steve Gehrke (bio)
  • Visitation
  • Steve Gehrke (bio)

1. Office Hours

As if she was always there, in some darkened spot where    the lantern of my attention finally swung, that womanappeared that fall, telling me that when her son was born,    he came out of her looking like he'd been dipped in ash,the source of the infection proving always deeper and more elusive

than they thought, so that finally the doctors carved    the organs out of him, like they were butcheringan animal, she said, the stomach, the spleen, the oil-    bearing glands as small and dark as birds'tongues, then every hemped muscle, the contrapuntal heart—

I could see it now—the electric, oracular brain,    the greased veins, the patchwork of the lungs,the bones laid on the table as if for the assembly    of some gothic instrument. And when theywere finally done, the flinthearted doctors threw

the empty skin into the trash, or so she claimed,    the whole thing so cartoonish and horrible thatI might have laughed, or fallen at her feet, like a dismantled    marionette. All night she prayed into the trashand in the morning, when the skin began to heal, began even

to actuate, began, she said, to cry, she lifted the boy    from his witches' cradle and carried himthrough the anesthesia of her vision, the boy eeling,    arisen in her hands, and the doctorsreassembled the body, like a med-school mannequin,

I imagined, the infection vanquished, the child saved.    I know no one believes me, she said,reaching toward me, her hand oddly fitted    and knuckled like a man's. No one believesin such miracles these days.        Do you? [End Page 90]


That was the fall that began in the tilled, empty fields    of desire and ended with the pesticides of anti-psychotics,

the fall when I heard phantom music everywhere,    when my wife saw me pick up a phone and start talking

to a dial tone, something reaching through me in those days,    epilithic, placental, coffled together from a past that had

lingered too long in me unassayed. I swear it:    that woman appeared in my office one day, shadow-swallowed,

looking out through a burka like a child hidden    in the drapes, born perhaps out of my own dark annex,

or out of some distant insectory of pain, who or what she    might have been so lost to me now that I can see her

only as a creature pulled from the sea, then tossed back,    so that sometimes I still feel her squirm a little

inside of me, like the kick from some false pregnancy,    a symbol of my discontent, something the mind can't swallow

so keeps spitting out, a piece of the imagination's rubble,    as if there is nothing in us that the world can't double,

the unconscious peeled like a mummy until what falls out    makes you want to crack, the doctor holding

the extracted tissue up, saying, see what you had inside    of you, and the first thing you think is: put it back. [End Page 91]

Steve Gehrke

"When I was fourteen, I started hearing scraps of music in the air. Little meaningless fragments: commercial jingles, the refrains of popular songs repeated endlessly. Driving with my mother once, I heard 'We Are the World' playing faintly on the radio, but when I reached to turn the dial up, the radio clicked on beneath my fingertips. I guess I could have told my mother what was happening, and maybe she would have driven me to the hospital right then, found me some specialist or psychologist or maybe just told me that it was no big deal, that it would go away eventually. But I didn't say anything. Instead, I locked away that bit of information about myself in the same place where I've locked away so many other fragments of myself. I don't mean to pathologize myself or to suggest that I'm any more or less disturbed than anybody else. What I mean to suggest is that one thing poetry can do is turn the most secret...


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pp. 89-96
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