Unbecoming – by Cate Terwilliger

I’m too stunned to say anything intelligible about this earth-shattering poem. Just. Read. It.

Suddenly I find it odd that my arms terminate in hands — these firm and meaty pads, the bony fingers extruded in opposition to the outliers, these peculiar thumbs. Who designed these naked anomalies, wrinkling and weathering with the years? Where are my clever paws, their dexterous beauty, their soft and ageless fur? A […]

Unbecoming

Dilated

house finch

To think that we see
them so often     yet so rarely consider
how those piebald songbirds     so at home
on a snow-scape in their portable parkas
are made of the exact same stuff we use
to fill up our electric sky      & shocking
watermelon nylon winter coats     which must be
designed expressly for us to go out there looking
ridiculous     not to mention callous (clothed     as it were
in outright exploitation)—is the thing I’m pondering
as I observe through the window a little house finch
all feathery & poofed with his flushed cheeks
flitting over the snowy patio     pecking among the abandoned
bench-feet for invisible     if not entirely non-existent
morsels     & hawking an air of self-possession that is obvious
even to me in my current     incapacitated state

As for whether the red-crowned
retina specialist who conducted my examination
was young &/or fetching     the prospect was relatively murky
(the simultaneity of his brisk entrance with the climax
of my dilation expertly flourished by his robust clasping of my
hand     had inspired my conjecture that he might’ve been both)
& you’d better believe all bets were off the very moment
the white-cloaked     smeary hulk of him ambushed my defenseless
retinas with an impossibly aggressive radiant device
thus affording me the pivotal elucidation:
that a). the anomaly on my fundus autofluourescence images
is simply an unremarkable patch of variegated pigmentation
b). it was only natural to expect that the definition
of such a lexical wonder as variegated would elude the layperson
& c). I am indeed obliged by gratuitous pigeonholing
to take categorical offense

Not that I’m usually so bold
as to co-opt medical jargon     but I’m pretty certain
variegated is the only word that could aptly
account for what’s right now comprising
the better part of my visual experience
as embodied by this polka-dotty
aberration     also known as a scone
I resorted to purchasing in the hospital café
thus affording myself the pivotal illusion:
that a). I’m quite absorbed in an earnest task
while waiting here in the lobby for my ride
b). I wouldn’t otherwise be averting
my freakish     black gaze from passersby
& c). I’m the kind of person
who always smiles at everyone     as if to say
I accept you for who you are no matter what…    
 
From its orange piquancy
I’ve gathered that the scone’s dark splotches must
be cranberries—however vainly their vaguely moist
sweet-tang serves to redeem their crumbly substrate’s
alleged alimentary function

Still     the finch remains
staunchly committed to my functional blindness
as if by sheer force of his impending command
its concomitant scone-silage would transcend
the glass     & sift to the frozen ground

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

It may not surprise you to learn that I wrote this poem in January 2017, while brooding over a certain sociopolitical debacle. This is its first exposure to the light of day…