Back to Issue Twenty-Five.

The Civil Surgeon


2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry
Previously appeared in Conjunctions

Didn’t agree with me on my eye color.
I said it was more chestnut, and he wrote beer
the way when you tell someone else to look up
at a particular star
                             you can never be sure
it is your constellation at which they are nodding
even if their breath is warm on the curve of your
ear, and you want to believe in the trusty
abstractions again.
                              The air
was like entering after hysterically laughing
a room where a third person silently
lies. I had dreams of a voice saying: each
question will be repeated twice
and only twice
                       , unless
you retake the test.
Retake the test.
                         I woke up with the sweats
and then I came here, carrying a picture
of the person you should be seeing when you
look at me in my head. It was heavy
like the slosh of water in a toilet flushed endlessly
into the night
                      obsessive, obsessive
because if love is domination I just want
to be collected: hung
                                  askew & loved
for the stutter my color makes in a room’s
hum of time. Well you can’t always be
who you were in that other room
here. I’ve kept this fact for years
                                                   , a splinter

dark and harmless as a carp under the surface of
my skin. Sometimes I feed it hopeful
              I picture myself living
back when no one imagined the earth as an ending
thing, on a raft with a nuclear briefcase
trying to relax, to forget the consuming and meaningless
destructions I have in me
                                        to enact.
I wanted to tell him I wanted
to pass. There’s nothing wrong with me
            But I just
stuck out my tongue, thinking how in the street
below I’d gone over the statement I’d make
if we spoke the same language:
                                                   I’d ask
will you still send me back if you
don’t assume I was home. I’d say
like an empty can at the dump
to the hand that held me
                                        , you think
when you throw something away
you throw it away




2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


Just because I study feelings
doesn’t mean I’ve had them

all, you might’ve said, but thought
I would come empty-handed

better, like a pair of children out
for apples trusting there would be

riper fruit higher, climbing
higher to behold the vast flat sheet of

sky cut up, the branches giving
it a new immensity and them

a view of neighboring
sheaves of grain unnumbered

as dust motes in one beam of sun
and scintillant like the instant

you gain a belief, and so
you gave me the benefit of

the doubt I knew
there is no wisdom

in these things, each one a one-
time blossom cultivated not

only to be pressed between the pages
of two ages but envisioned

as a blur of pollen
uplifted on infinite miniscule

wings and then wind-scattered, drifting
down and downward, softly taking

hold under earth’s skin to be
a part of the measure of things,

a hum in the fat dappled animal
late afternoon, until you can’t

tell it from the light and you
wouldn’t want to, the kind

of still point we climb up and up
to find, though sure in nature it

never or only with extreme rarity
arrives, that tight joy I

felt when you kissed the fine
blue roots beneath my skin

and you said you to me
like the name of a place.





2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry
Previously appeared in Conjunctions

The first time, don’t remember.
The next time, your blue eye
spilt across the lens on the edge of the cut

glass coffee table, you can almost see
the carpet-flowers now. That kid,
the one spread-eagled on the mulch

scooped up pits-first by some other
tot on the swingset’s mother, who
wept, the scraped knee, the whole bit—

was you, duh. In third grade, paired with
Angela, the blind girl, as she gripped
your wrist in her fingerbones, wrenching it

over and over the finish line
of the three-legged race, your chin
split, coursed. Fast blood made a carnation

flower on your blouse. The nurse was
one Miss Prinn. She stuffed a crumpled dollar
into your red hand and hissed, stop crying.

Then mostly, for years, no one touched you.

A needle, a fork, a dog, a man in France
—touched is not the right word—rearranged you
under your life’s last skirt, kicked

you off the front steps—cobbles, scraped knee,
the whole bit. Torn culotte.
Your nose broke now and again, then hairy hands

of the doctor cupped your left breast, speculator
over the holding, a cross between dinosaur egg
and double-stuffed pastry, musing aloud, Can we

claim this as a medical necessity? The blue
permanent marker making slashes—X
across each nipple—you paid him extra

to put them back exactly where he found them. Crookedly,
scar grins stitched under the stretched erasure
yank each which way. Burn. Harden and sink

into the earth of flesh. One last cut left
no mark—yet the milky negative testified
that the intruders had entered. Vibrations, the rattle

of infinitesimal hammers driving ache nails deep
in. The worn-down bone doors swivel open,
each cavity gasps—as shards of air

wedge themselves in crevices between the tense
of each act, weave your gait into the lapse
of the horse who gallops, gallops endlessly, jumps

the fence, now you can’t stitch it back through your flesh,
the thrill of impact as both feet hit

earth. Cut. Watch the past unspool

behind you in curls from its canister—you were her,
a double, two daughter cells borne from the rip
in the film of one woman and one man, spliced together.


Michael M. Weinstein holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, and has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, New York State Summer Writers Institute, and elsewhere. His poems have appeared most recently in Conjunctions and Boston Review. He teaches Russian literature at Yale University.

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