Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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In a Land Where Everything Is Trying to Kill You, I Teach You to Be an Autotomist

I wish someone had taught me years ago. The older you are, the harder it is to part
with yourself like this—to part the hand from the wrist, the lips from
the rest of the face. I don’t mean emotionally. I mean the separation is messier,
and hurts. In children, the casting off is clean and, with practice,
painless. I show you the lizard whipping its tail free, the spider unhinging itself
from two of its legs. Together we watch them open
and close across the kitchen floor, blown by an automatic breeze. I tell you
what to expect: tension, then a ripple
of popping—the deep feeling of pulling up a long-rooted weed. Warmth, relief,
numbness for a week, then
terrible itching. But living. It is worth shedding anything for this, I say. I mean it,
mostly. We practice.
You shake your head and your hair drifts through the air, roots and all, bloodless
as cottonwood.
You wave your hand and your nails drop their soft, unfinished moons. Soon
will be able to dissolve a faulty organ as easily as deciding to. Snap your fingers
and a fresh one
will inflate into its hollow. The kidnapper will be left gripping a dummy arm,
the tree trunk pinning
a cooling leg. It’s true that the new limbs are more fragile. It’s true that the numbness
comes back, that spring will feel
less lush on your cheeks, the August rain less electric. It’s true that there are patches
of anesthesia in my chest. When I look
toward the stars, I find myself squinting to anchor them onto the sky. But I am alive
to notice the dullness. I am alive to notice the blood
running less redly beneath the flies.  

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