Brian Teare


i. Consultation: X-ray 

—What are your symptoms?
                                      Four times
                                      the room blinks.

—How do you feel today?
                                      My legs
                                     akimbo. Whitecoat.
                                      A table, steel.

How long have you felt this way?
                                     Four pin-up positions,
                                      plate beneath
                                      to catch the image:

—Where does it hurt?
                                      both knees to ceiling,
                                      then each on its side.

—Does it hurt when I touch you?
                                     Knees tire of metal.

               (To be sea :
                             chemistry forgiving
                       my body of weight,
           science a reprieve
                             somehow from flesh.
             My mouth
             or hands
                                          (salt) :
                                          his cock
            (salt) :

ii. Urine

: twenty-four hours’ worth,
ridiculous orange in two Biohazard milk jugs;
blood: five vials held in Styrofoam,
a set of fat pens
I might have received at a graduation.

My body, back from the lab: paper.
Periwinkle. Folded three times.

iii. Body of Faith

His pelvis religious, a dish
                                   to hold a single candle
running clear at the tip:
                                   I would’ve swallowed anything
to memorize the outline
                                   of my throat. Addict and worship
at the body’s altar, I’ve had
                                   anonymous hips in my hands
and tipped that brass plate
                                   to my mouth. Gagged myself
to call it sacrament, pain
                                   to know my body embodied—
what did I know—
                                   A style of prayer.

iv. Sex & Drugs

Ache, secret marrow: body caught and escaped.         

Quite lucid suddenly with touch. Memorize first

his hand slipping torpor down my back to softer, all downy

slip and fingertips. What is outside what is in,

second, when kissed and when does pain begin.

Where, fourth—hips or knees first, and kneeling?

Or lying. Fifth I won’t remember but six, opening

my mouth not a sound. On the radio, piano here,

there: glass pianissimo and pinched thin between ribs

like breath. A stomach ache, eight, from the pills.

Nine—remembering my students slack-jawed,

floored as I elucidated the history of come

on the board—petit morte—Sex & Death—liebestod

naively assumed they’d had orgasms by now.

Back to bone, ten, his mouth explains

the back of my knee, defines crease and overture.

Treasure. Numbering tongue, one nipple

stiff, two: eleven twelve. My body thinks and my mind,

pain keens them: mooring and unmoored.

v. Prescription

: palm open. Confess. Pain                       
                                   is prayer like any other. Three times
a day in the mouth’s pink                          
                                   and marbled chapel—like Eucharist—
prednisone, colchicine, allopurinal,          
                                   indomethacin. Diagnose side-effect,
these words in my mouth’s shallow nave.   
                                   Words like pills. In amber bottles,
they clack and worry like rosary beads.    
                                   Count. Swallow, they say nothing.

                                   Call it symptom.


(Again wish :
                   ocean ebb-
                          flesh, that crest
                                      rock and swell.

Arched wave, my back, his,
                     brilliant with spindrift sweat,
                             cleft. How my body, his,
                                       water-lapped sand.

How breath marks tide :
                    my body above his
                          breaks its lip
                                       of foam on the line

shored between us.
                               makes Us
                                       but this heaviness this                            
                               must give us shape, too.)


vi. X-ray Results: Diagnosis

—How do you feel today?
                                     Back-lit, my body: femurs in negative,
                                      glistening and ghostly foam. My tibias,

—What are your symptoms?
                                     enormous carved lilies of a beach-
                                     artist, fluted and sere as driftwood.

—How long have you felt this way?
                                      The laser pointer explains a problem
                                     with closure: the femur’s end is too much

—Where does it hurt?
                                     a ghost, the tibia, poorly crafted. In each,
                                     the patella, solid pebble beach-bound by sand.

—Does it hurt when I touch you?
                                     Calcium washes from the body like tide.

vii. Final consultation

: not what I thought it was, my body.
In a word: degenerative.
                                     Slim in manila,
twenty pages of may cause, might become,
could expect—typed notes the length
of a short story and my body waits, no plot.

I didn’t recognize myself there,
narrative of diagnostics—arthritis—ancient Greek—
               a language no one speaks.


A 2015 Pew Fellow in the Arts, Brian Teare is the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Fund for Poetry, the Vermont Studio Center, and the American Antiquarian Society. He is the author of five critically acclaimed books, most recently Companion Grasses, which was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award, and The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, a Library Journal Best Indie Poetry pick. An Assistant Professor at Temple University, he lives in South Philadelphia, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.