Speech of Parts

I am not the first to say
that the stomach is a little monster
locked in eternal recurrence;
born and dead and reborn over
and over in the same damp cave,
the deep vibrations of its lament
frightening birds.
In this example, as always, the heart is a bird—
wings all a frenzy—
shedding feathers that good-naturedly decorate dried-up lawns.
In this example, the feathers are blood drops.
“Chambers” connotes velvet drapes,
paisley cushions,
more fringe than is polite,
vulgarity, rank lusciousness,
a single lightbulb bathed by a red scarf
winking on and off.

It has been said many times before
that the brain’s membrane
is not at all like skin.
If its flesh is covered in goosepimples,
they’re not goosepimples, you idiot.
The brain’s soft edges can only feel sharpness:
a pang of headache,
a painful recollection of heartache.
It is because it is so soft
it has the power to take in all,
just as the night sky—
not to be confused with space,
which is both many things and empty of a lot—
is both one thing only
and completely full.

It goes without saying
that toes are just toes.
Toes don’t know how to be anything else.
Even when they break their backs
they cannot be un-clumped, the poor stumps.
Only when one is cut off
can it dream of becoming something different;
a cube of ice, say,
something gracefully ephemeral,
or a cricket
capable of music disproportionately grand.
Toes shiver in their sleep
at the thought of such thrills.

Can anyone ever say enough
about the complex beauty of the lungs?
When one speaks of life
one speaks of breath but
not much is said of their precious fragility.
It’s swept under the rug like a family secret—
the lungs’ compulsion to flood themselves.
I knew someone who died from pneumonia
because his stupid lungs
couldn’t keep their mouths shut.
Alcoholic in their appetite, yes but
I accept
that one aspect of their full-bodied beauty
is how sweetly they sigh
as they apologize for their weaknesses.

Allow me to say, for the last time,
that the hand cannot possibly be a mountain
because its every peak is speckled with trees
and at a certain elevation
trees just can’t grow,
but on the other hand, there is a tree
that grows on volcanoes in Hawaii
known for its exceptional ability to withstand any lava flow.
Some mountains are too fluid
to be classified as mountains
and still bear a tree or two
so sorry for misleading you, I guess
I was distracted by the sound of fingers snapping
in time with a heartbeat.
The concert is cruel,
the hands flexing their power
when the toes can’t snap for anything.


Katie Quarles is a graduate of U. C. Santa Cruz. She was the recipient of the 2008 Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize. She also received second place and an honorable mention in Sacramento Poetry Center’s 2010 contest. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Apocryphal Text, The King’s English, Poetry Now, Dime Show Review, and the anthology Connoisseurs of Suffering. She lives and writes in Rocklin, California. Her first collection is forthcoming.