Narrative on Phantom Limbs

Narrative on Phantom Limbs
Kat Stromquist
– for K.

“I could have lost my arm,” you say,
half-past asleep in our sweat-rich sheets.

You’ve never told me this, before.
I imagine it: the pinned sleeve’s visible

tragedy, the glances from strangers,
your quietness with a different color.
I was twenty when I wrote a poem
about mutilation and disability, after

a friend was nearly killed in a car wreck.
He spent two months in a coma, unstable,

his legs and arms immobilized in traction,
a ventilator rhyming with his ribcage.
In your favorite book, The Razor’s Edge,
the protagonist, Larry, changes

after flying a plane in the first World War.
Something happens in expansive skies,

and Larry comes home strange, muted.
He breaks his engagement, goes to Paris.

We were drinking coffee in Morocco
when we saw a dog with a broken leg

half-heartedly chasing a dinged-up car.
Noticing us, it limped over, licked

your outstretched hand. I looked at
its halo of flies, your absent petting.
I trace your scars in bed, thick
knots grapefruit-colored

on your elbow and forearm.
I’ve never told you how I heard

about your accident: from someone else.
About who was driving, the anguish after.
After my friend left the hospital,
I came home to the city where he and I

grew up. He stuttered with a cane
on icy driveways, tottered, got lost

in time and touched me in places
that no longer felt appropriate.
From Paris, Larry travels to India,
meditates, approaches transcendence.

Probably the author takes liberties
with reality—how unlikely anyone

could recover so completely,
trauma shrugged off like a gesture.
Africa: after two seven-hour bus rides
and cement rooms without windows,

we got sick near the Sahara.
I thought of being buried in the desert.

Feverish, I groped the sheets,
searching for your unfound hand.
You roll over, thin chest falling
with steady breaths,

your silent voice. I think of your arm
swollen, bone-sawed, what you carry

like a prosthesis. What was she like?
No one I love has ever died.

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