The Contact Imperative

She emerges wearing a welder’s mask (I try
not to stare) because the blood will splatter
under her electric drill—a Black &
Decker used to filter flesh and bone from
infection, keening into the body, uninvited.

She is a dyke, short and mean. Tuesdays,
I file records until nine. She stays late without
ever looking at me. Leaning over the charts,
pen in sinister hand, she scrawls T-cell counts,
viral loads, whether Edwin or Scotty can get it up—

choppy waves on paper, strange lake.
I read an essay that said for women,
blood means creativity in a poem,
our bodies congruent to a larger body:
Woman’s hip bone splayed across an ocean,

bleeds creation? Friday she does spinal
taps, the lumbar puncture. Genitals smashed
into the table, the men lie on their stomach’s
before her. What poetry would it be if she
took liquid from my brain?  If I asked her to

take it, to help me dream a double helix,
snaky genetic storm along my spine?
I’ve always wanted somebody
to search the reservoirs of my body for
each delicate virus. Show me what I’m

made of; teach me how simple
it is to undo a cell.




Wendy Oleson’s poetry appears/is forthcoming in Rattle, Calyx, Copper Nickel, Hotel Amerika, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. She was a 2016 fellow at the Vermont Studio Center, a finalist in the Spring 2016 Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Competition, and winner of Map Literary’s 2016 Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award. She teaches for the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

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