THE TAXIDERMIST'S WIFE
When he first peeled back the skin,
I wonder if he too shuddered:
all the musky ladles of blood,
the folds of brain, eyes clinging
to darkness. As for me,
I feign my sleep at midnight
when he dumps the sloshing bowls.
I watched a show on Rameses:
seventy-five desert days spent
preparing his body. They removed
the organs, filled him with sawdust
and clay, and in my finest dream
my husband holds me, covets me.
In the skull, faint fractures almost
blameless. And the way he poses
those bones with his hands
grown lazy from embalming,
the way he aims glass eyes.
He reads their last betrayal so precisely.
In a book about Saint Francis Xavier,
his right arm becomes powerless
from hovering so often over the baptized.
My husband's arm has that ache
of resurrection shooting through
when he raises it above the fallen
animals, whatever guns dismantled,
brings out from somewhere underneath
a perfect body, built by him. Still,
to watch him reposition hips,
cartilage that crinkles like parchment:
what's separating him from those
whose death is aesthetic?
He taught me how to breathe
while gutting deer, how to disengage
my sense of smell, and I remember
trembling, knife in hand, his hand
holding mine, negotiating the belly,
careful not to rip its lay of fur.
Death, he said to me, is not this careful,
his voice deliberate as if the tedium
of scalpel and removal, fill and stitch,
were part of a chant, extracting
the smallest trace of heresy.
But there are nights I feel as if I'll pass
over to temptation, to the hunters' wives,
their tales thick with corpses
after bloodletting, the slow fall
of jowls, swelling eyes on walls
behind televisions. Those nights
he seems more animal himself,
the way he fingers down my chest.
If I part my legs accepting him,
then he is young, without this knowledge.
We fall, glazed in sweat, while somewhere,
on shores of lakes,
hunters slough their coats
to free their ageless arms.
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