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To Touch the Dying

Noelle Paek


I never understood how the body needs a 


                                  beating


                to feel alive.

   Pain blesses with pleasure

                     hammered meat tastes the best 

and god likes his children tender 

            before they’re delivered to heaven.


My grandmother made me her masseuse before I could

          question the peace on her face as I pressed

  young thumbs into old muscle,

          pushed her into her stone bed with welts

that shone into russet streaks.


                        A little bit of killing makes the body stronger.


           She taught me how to hop my fingers

   down each side of her spine,     

                wring the hours swatting 

  on the floor bathing cabbage 

                                             in salt 

                         out of her draping skin.

 

                 You honor your elders with a tithe of pain.


          Stand on me Jinsuh.

                    I crushed her best I could with a kid’s shoe size

       dancing on a crooked stage. 


          Hit me hard.

    Her back my rocking horse

               as I straddled her, fists pounding

     to the rhythm of her gallop.

 

      I’d always finish with raking fingernails

 and sweeping rubs 

                         as if to erase

         the pink raised rows of tilled skin on white backdrop

that abused her into sleep.


             They say grass withers. Flowers fade.

If we bury her under her garden 

                     she could feed us forever.

          Would the peppers sweeten with her blood,

the snap of bitten cucumber become breaking of bone?


            Farm fresh is to die for good. 


  Now what right do I have to be horrified

                             as a voyeur of my future self

my own flesh and blood decaying in my presence

    a premonition of my own death.


     I imagine standing

                  on her with my current feet.

                                    How her back would cave beneath me.

         How one step would make me a murderer.


              With gravedigger's hands 

I feel the skull behind

              her face,

        root past snow-capped widow’s peak 

through artificial curls.


      Not too hard just rubbing

                                 my grandmother says

    but what is rubbing if not a reassurance

between two skins that they exist.

                 Because movement is life.

                        Because we both need to know it’s still there.


              My sticky palms move over her like clouds,

     the thunderstorms outside us

                        that are god’s condolences,

      his apology for keeping her 10-feet-away garden out of reach.

                  Boom. 

     You’re in my prayers

                  Boom. 

    At least her plants won’t die too. 


       Long strokes pare down the curve of pale calf 

and now I know why

   they tell you not to get tattoos.


         It’s not because age ruins art 

                  but because it

                                             creates 

                               it, 

     time stabbing blood blue ink into varicose veins.

                 A fine line print under almost see-through skin.

 

       Her IV drip was really a stick-and-poke

 to get that deep dye back. 

       She’s got dye scribbled all over her legs.


   My legs are on either side of her 

                freshly razed with bug bite braille

     that spell out I’m sorry but I can’t stand being here


 here in the body of my childhood summers

      here above my mother’s genesis

                    a still prey beneath me,

               too gone to enjoy the fight. 

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