The first time I touched your chest the wave in the bones in the middle of it spread against my fingertips like electricity. When I asked you to take your shirt off for a costume-filled photo shoot, you demurred, your chest the one thing that you were conscious of, self-conscious about. In high school you wouldn’t take your shirt off to go swimming because you were afraid the other boys would stare, see your wave, a flag in your bone structure, your sternum an example of rippled cells, marrow unlike the other boys with defined pads of pecs of chest, even at such a young age.
Your chest reminds me of a sea of sunflowers with fruiting heads, sinking close to the soil.
Tandem visions of our chests in waves of bone. I find myself aware of the bones in my ribs, the bones in my sternum. When I lose and gain weight, I pose in the mirror to see if I can still collect rain in the crevices of my clavicle. I look to see if the meeting above my breasts ripples, too, like yours and if so, why I have never noticed it before. It does not. Tandem visions, daydream: if I lie down with your chest on top of mine, we would be a sea of mammary and bones, the way in which the sea-floor would look if drained.
Your chest in an inflorescence, a cavity like a sunflower head, that opens and expands, skin like sand ripple in a low tide, the front of shore when you touch your feet in it, the way the sand divides and expands around your bones, the way your weight sinks and the stones, pieces of buildings far away, broken shells surround your feet, the ripples in sunflower petals, the way in which the petals form each other.
A sunflower is an allusion of a whole. The sunflower inflorescence contains thousands of individual flowers fused together to create what seems to be a whole flower. Each sunflower head is thousands of other flowering heads and when they finally turn to the sun, there are thousands of heads getting warmed, getting fed, alive.
I had a dream where our chests were fused together, the cells morphing creating new double-helix and in the dream I could see our cells fusing together to create new waves of marrow like a field of rippled sunflowers, thousands of cells like deadheads creating an allusion of growth, of a new person. This is how it is done, I thought to myself, this is how human beings are created. But when you realized what was happening, in my dream you panicked. You said, I don’t want you to see my chest, stop looking at it. As if, just by looking at your wave of bone in sternum your insides would disintegrate and crumble, juice itself into liquid in your skin, your skin would flagellate in the depression of the body, everything would end. Our bones and cells were un-morphing at an alarming rate, we were separating, you were crying.
Sunflowers, in gardener’s and farmer’s mythos alike, are said to follow the sun with their heads, move their entire bodies at the waist and expand a meditation to the sun’s pattern, east to west. This is not true. While in young plants the heliotropism (the directional growth of a plant in response to sunlight) takes effect, once mature, they do not move the same way. The sun can come to them. They don’t need to face it to know it is there.
We are drinking gin in silence on your couch; it is unseasonably warm for the first day of spring and we are talking about the ways we are attracted to each other and other people as if talking about it changes anything, the way we are always talking about each other and other people. I see you thumb the wave in your chest when you are nervous, running your thumb over the bone from east to west slowly as to not draw attention to the fact that you are running your thumb over the irregular bone in your sternum. You are slightly thumping it, a small clutch in knuckle like a heart attack. You are slightly rapping, the corner of your thumb creased from I can only imagine a lifetime of chest-rapping, chest-thumping, chest-thumbing. Unlike the sunflower to sun, you have to see (or in this case touch) the bone to make sure it is there, to make sure it hadn’t gone anywhere overnight, you touch it like an oracle to give you the words to express your feelings, which you can’t in this heat, which you can’t in this gin, these sea of sunflowers on the brain. You run your fingers through your hair, cross your ankles and fold your body inside of you, resting your head in your knees.
You stop thumbing the bone in your chest; it’s not going anywhere.
I had a dream where you wrapped your arms around my shoulders from behind and when you put your chest against my back, a sunflower’s prickle stem traveled through me, through us, through the front of my body, your arms crushing my shoulder blades into my clavicle, the force of the pressure of the thick stem suffocating me, the thousands of individual flowers dying rapidly in front of me, a weeping of red petal, when, upon waking, I assumed were yellow covered with blood, but, in fact, the head of the flower was simply a variety of sunflower know as “Velvet Queen” with crimson petals and a huge black head and a stem that can grow to be 6 feet tall.
One of the last times we see each other, we are standing in a crowded room dancing and I am running my fingers in a circular motion across your shirt, your chest, to see if you wince, which you don’t, to see if you are paying attention, which you are not, which you are, and you do not stop me, the ways in which my hands are invading your sunflower. You have agreed to take your shirt off for our photo shoot with our friends, your hands replace my hands in anxiety, thump and rub, thump and rub but I am leaving soon forever and the photos will never take place.
Katie Jean Shinkle’s essays, poems, and prose have appeared in or are forthcoming from Salt Hill Journal, Sonora Review, South Loop Review, and Puerto del Sol, among others.