The Zombie Thumb


I had not understood love
is a kind of grief. It was your name on my tongue
cracked the shell of nightmare

-Samuel Green, from Vertebrae: Poems 1978-1994

The zombie thumb has been neatly severed
halfway from the tip again.
I call it the zombie thumb because
once it is whole again, it will wander
senseless and hungry
pitching and rolling in search of warm flesh
while skin peels back from the wound
gaping flakes rasping
against the face it longs to consume
imprint upon sensory memory
the precise scrub of your jaw
or the delicate understory of peach fuzz
that belies the dark wiry hairs at the small of your back.
Sadly, it will be years before the ability returns
and familiarity with your face may not stay the distance between.
The last time I revealed the blood moon of lipid inside
I had not even put your name to my mouth.
I was drunk, a solitary beer on an empty stomach
and the impending doom of a long term relationship crumbling,
brick after brick removed while I held my breath
not yet ready to call the finale Jenga.
I was in the kitchen with my brother
revealing the latest passive aggression
not aware that in a year I’d have pulled the curtain
same as he was telling me I ought to, then.
But how could I have known?
It took another year for the boom to become bust.
That night instead of repairing to silence I came home still bleeding
and had to break the unspoken terms of our childish disagreement
by asking him to dress the wound.
He pressed it with gauze and wound with tape
brows knitted, fingers coolly collected.
The gash ameliorated, we sank into his bed
side by side in the dark
until sometime after midnight
I threw my arm over the freckled crescent of his back
and drew us together, attempting to erase the earlier slight.
Now I have slivered the same scar
and staunched the bleeding on my own.
Tho it took the night and day to close
the watchcap flap is finally fastened
knitting itself to bed
comforted by a single bandage.
The night I gored myself I was alone, and singing
putting up a crock of sauerkraut to feed myself
tart and salt for the month
when the dull knife slipped and twinned the former injury
tho not the pomp or circumstance.
I’ve learned so much in the intervening years.
This time I tamped down tight to slow the bleeding
elevated the foreshortened digit above my heart.
And tho the throbbing in time to pulse tempted,
I swallowed not the blood-thinning aspirin nor pain-nulling narcotics.
After a few hours the pain dulled and the bleeding feathered out
enough to warrant gauze, but certainly no fountain for concern.
Experience tells me there are long months and years of healing ahead
that even after the flesh itself appears repaired from severance
years will come and go before I can
take joy in the sensation of stroking
that thumb along another jaw
tho it will search
until it finds.


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