Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Ode to My Pectus Excavatum

or my sunken chest, visible each time
I bow my head in prayer, my own body

falls in on itself, my heart a sinkhole,
a cenote. I trace my breastbone

with my fingers, feeling the air
where the ribs should be, and I recall

in the locker room, changing out
of my gym clothes, the boy who said

you could eat a bowl of cereal out of
my chest. And maybe he’s right—

maybe I have made a meal of my heart
and broken body. In a video my father

sends me, my nephew climbs into
my father’s bed to wake him up,

then blows on his stomach, laughing
at the noise. With his shirt up, I can see,

even through the grain of the video,
my father’s own sunken chest, a valley

where no crops will grow. I spent
years inside the empty cathedral

of my father’s chest, years building
each pew from a tree fallen every storm.

Years thinking if my body matched
my father’s, then I must be him. That I had to

become him. I spent years unlearning this.
From the angle of the camera, there is

a shadow on his breastbone, as it
rises and falls in the morning light.

As a child, I laid my palm into
the indentation of my father’s shirt.

He said our nightly prayers should be
of thanks. I cannot praise my body

while within it. I cannot remember
the trees until the trees become memory.

When I kneel, I see only the shadows
carved in my chest, so I am distracted

by my own inadequacy, the sound
of the cardinal in the front yard.

I cannot give thanks for what I’m not
thankful for. And so when I pray I pray

for a better chest, one larger, one that
can hold my father and I within it.

I pray for rainwater to gather in the gutters
of my bones, in the hollow of my center.

I pray that if I can’t leave this cave
of my body—if the light from above

only plays off the water and the limestone—
I make within it a home.  

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