John W. Evans



ARTHRITIC TOES

Strange that they would break down last and stay unfixable
but not the seven fingers crushed in a car door,
the pronounced myopia, the big scar across the knee,
the collapsed sinuses, chronic dysentery, scabies.
Even the ticker, stuttering its way from beat to steady beat,
painlessly endures each sideways step or stub against the furniture,
the long mornings out on the track that swell the joint
and clip the wing of cartilage a little more,
bone grinding closer to bone.

When I was twelve my mother worried it was my heart
when a teammate wearing metal cleats snapped my tibia
and they carried me off the field on a stretcher.
Just a shin. By Christmas, I could plant and turn,
feeling no pain, but wobbling just the same.
Years later I smiled as my wife traced her finger
along the little dent, smooth and soft as plastic,
but what could I really say about tolerance?
I learned to study my body for first signs of a breakdown:
shoulder aching so near the chest on a long run,
numb and warm wrist I shook against the bed-post,
a schizophrenia of pain without diagnosis
that strained the sensibility of my earliest limbs,
never entirely local, just a dim awareness
that something was always about to go wrong.
Now when I race on the cardiologistís treadmill
the muscles in my legs surrender long before my heart.
On a chart, I track its capacity for endurance:
how it peaks slightly in childhood, then steadies
in slight variations on stronger and weaker,
even as I approach, with each visit, the undeniable limit.

What does my body need now? More oxygen?
Aluminum joints? A mechanical heart? Why does anatomy
burn like ambition for the things I can no longer do?
Even the pain is not as bad as the pain
of knowing that the body is undone arbitrarily,
that it revises itself against my most familiar habits,
scaffolding more bone because I am vulnerable
even when there is no injury, no obstacle except my bodyís
potential for unrest, the inevitability of its exposure
like a toothache pulsing in time with such anticipation,
its throb a kind of emblem to carry into the world.






John W. Evans' poems are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2006, and appear in Poetry East, 5AM, Nimrod, Epicenter, and Harpur Palate (2005 Kessler Award finalist). He is the recipient of the FIU Poetry Prize (2005) and the Faricy Award for Poetry from Northwesten University (1999). A former Peace Corps volunteer (Bangladesh), Evans has recently relocated to Bucharest, where he writes and teaches.







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