Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jill Khoury

Paper Dancing Girl
In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” a one-legged toy soldier loves a paper ballerina.
An evil puppet intervenes in their love, a fickle child throws the soldier into the fire, and the two lovers
are burnt up together.

I imagined how the muscles hugged
the long bones of your thigh
to make you stand so rooted to the earth,
all your weight on one leg, like a dancer.
From where you stood, I too was an unlikely
silhouette frozen in action. You fell
for the illusion, a bird that thinks
he spies his mate. Instead, a showy flower
waits for him, throat open. We each saw
something rare in the other’s lines.
You came from the mold as you were.
You fell into place with your comrades.
We knew our role was to entertain,
not to think or feel. But the rhinestone
stitched to my breast sparkled and flamed;
but a storm sucked you out the window;
but you returned. From the doorway
to my palace I saw what you could not:
the hand of a little giant enveloped you,
sent you tumbling into the fire.
I leaned out, arabesque of longing,
and made a wish.

She’s Chronic

I can’t rouse myself to moving
with her on top of me. This muse
likes domination. She pins my wrists,
founders me with her slight weight,
sharp shapes.
She whispers say you love me,
plays each axon with a barbed wire
bow. Today it’s the space where head
meets neck. Yesterday, right elbow.
Day before, sacroiliac crest.
Say you’re blessed. She gently
shoves her fist in my mouth. My eyes
roll back. At times like these I tell myself,
just breathe. She makes me seize.
I flip upside down, hang myself
off the couch, head toward floor.
She counts with me C1, C2, C3
then sticks a fork in my ear and twists.

August 9, 2012
Garden Inn

In the garden room my doctor bids me luxuriate.
            Finally when the meds kick in, I can.
August sunshine warms the plate glass, cozies
            the sheets, chenille duvet. The walls are pale green.
My mother calls me. The secret shape is of an asterisk:
            thing implied but unstated in the body of the text. See
the diagnostic manual. This hotel vacation trumps
            in-patient psych incarceration. At the restaurant
(Breakfast for one?) the hostess asks me where I’m from.
            I answer Here with no corollaries. Your hair’s so pretty.
I play with it self-consciously and offer her the smile
            I save for strangers who are kind. Is everyone
here paid to be this nice? Imagine, she didn’t even earn
            a PhD.
                        I’m relaxing here en suite because of fleas
and OCD. Each black as a stitch, I had felt the bugs bore into me,
            then bolted into the shower, watched them endlessly
sluicing toward the drain, stared down that silver circle
            with its myriad black holes, ensuing catacomb of pipes.
The invisible is everywhere : this thought unhinged me.
            In the hotel lounge the glass-topped end tables have tree trunks
instead of legs. The meds arrive by courier, discreetly. I sip lemonade
            make lists of coping strategies, text my husband
{{{{{{{{anxiety}}}}}}}} and plan for home with affirmations, jeans
            and wrist-length sleeves. I had a Jewish student once
who said in Hebrew school we couldn’t show our elbows
            or our knees. My knees are pocked with bright
red welts— ankles too, belly, wrists. I think of the Latin
            name for cat flea, something felix. I’m prohibited
from Internet, from finding Latin names, also from reading
            how my mother can die nerve by nerve, in doctor-
speak. I set my cup of lemonade atop the knobby trunk, the broad
            glass circle. I choose one cookie, consider two.
Tomorrow I go home. My calm is chemical, corralled
            in squares of ballpoint pen on hotel stationery.
Trouble in the blood is real? perceived? I dream a swath
            of impenetrable skin wide enough to cover me, elbow to knee.

Atlanta International Airport, Part 1

I am not my body
                        [insert hundred-dollar bills]
            [fold / unfold]
when the plane ingests, egests me

——at two years old, miracle my pink sacs
                        stayed inflated, humming, oxygen on time.
            How many times we didn’t die, mother.
That signifies for me, or signified——

I am the movie of my body.
                        You are the conflict. I try
            to disremember chromosomal history, inhabit only
my choreographed movements:

shuttle, street, curb, sidewalk, door


Now I am on the inside of the pane, high-rise.
                        Me who could have been you, who—
            there but for anorexia mirabilis
go I,

stashing my compass up my sleeve.
                        Several masks elaborate
            on your condition pre-and post-.
They pivot, trade scorecards.

Did you know this is what it would be like
                        when there was no longer a you to tear her hair
            and cry into the phone
about it?

Now, metonymical vessel
                        the miracle
            you’ve waited for:
to be poured into a shape that holds.


At twenty-two I chased my devils
with anything hella hot, double
dares involving Aftershock,
shot after shot, tonguing the last
bit of gold from the bottom
of the glass. Midnight alone
in the English building’s stygian
lav, I leaned against ochre
cinderblocks and laid myself
open for boys I didn’t love,
then crammed two bloody fingers
down my throat to retch a river.
My hair was shaved and dyed
like sunset. My sign is fire.

Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Sentence, RHINO, Rufous City Review, and Harpur Palate. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice by Breath and Shadow: A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature, and has a chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, from Pudding House Press. She blogs about disability, writing, and art at

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