The Prodigies

Lack of red meat made our blood run pale,
repelling mosquitoes and spider fangs
in this monument we called our home.

These were our lives: spread thin
and watery against a teeming push
of bodies: plump arms, tangled
braids, piglike countenances, dimpled
flesh encased in sweaty cotton pleats.

They brought us vegetable pies.
They brought us boysenberries,
caviar, overripe cheeses on spotted silver
chargers lined with crisp doilies.

We could have been captured in overdetermined gilt
frames. We could have been hewn from Italian marble.
We could have been set down on scrolls
of finest parchment, scraped out with quills
plucked from plush white geese.

We had buttoners, escorters, morsel-tasters, skin-spongers.
Manicurists, soup-spooners, handkerchief-bearers.
Powderers, temple-pressers, cushion-testers.

Our heads were clear as consommé. Complexions
fair as paraffin. When we spoke—if we spoke—
our syllables fell like quicksilver beads
onto ice. They were sold in the markets
for thousands. They were peddled in faraway
villages, hoarded by housewives, traded
among children like cat’s-eyes.

Kingdoms, empires. Mathematics bent its theorems
to the flecks in our eyes, and philosophy—
well, it took its subtleties from our bellies’
indelicate functions.

Each year I looked into the glass and saw my brother’s face,
changing. Each year I recalled the pure white mouse
he’d found so long ago and tried to hide away
for fellowship, its sad pink clawing for air.

First published in The Journal, 2006. Copyright ©Melissa Stein.

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