In the makeshift hospital,
linen strips swaddle my arms and legs.
Mister Robin asks how it hurts:
bee sting, gravel,
kettle steam, splinter,
stubbed toe, razor?
I lie still while he tunes the off-key strings
By the color of the skin around the pain
he knows whether it’s the spleen or
a deeper organ.
Mr. Robin’s fingers listen to the gurgle and burp
in the weak sun when I would be getting home from school.
Am’ma says his fingertips, like sharpened instruments,
know where to burrow. I feel them
nudging muscle, cartilage, then into
the fluid that sings down the bone.
Am’ma spits on the doctor, blows out saint’s candles.
Her daughter’s better than the nurse’s thermometer.
“I want someone with a bag, a book for pain,” but Am’ma
blunts my protest. She calls those fingers Medicine.
Beneath my gown, Mister mines for necrotized tissue
and excises a glossy flesh piece.
He holds the organ in the delicate platter of his hand
like a toffee.
Am’ma displays my pain, swimming in a clear jar, on the piano.
Sometimes, when company comes, and she cranks the roll,
and the squeaky notes sound true,
it wobbles in its vinegar.
With powerful strangeness, Sara Anika Mithra narrates tales of spinsters, buffalo, and circus performers to tease out marginal desire and syncretic voices of the American West. Often troubling and mythic, her poems cover terrain like spiderwebs. See what’s caught come morning.