5 poems by Marissa McNamara


After the tests, the cutting, your skin now a container of you and not you,
your body now a grab bag of rogue cells, we said it was good to have something

solid to say: the occlusive stop of the first c and the next syllable,
its alter personality, beginning with the softening sibilant c,

the irony of its phonetics so similar to answer. Once named, we choked
on the word that sprawled its arrogant letters across 1,000,000 papers

and computer screens and forms. Then they gave you a number
to go with the word, as if your name was not enough, as if you were a prisoner,

as if you could be scanned and sold. Soon, your consonants and vowels disappeared,
your new identity repeated until you became the narrative of a number.



The Men Showed Up

with the hearts they had—
drills and saws, hammers, levels
to straighten the boards. They followed
an unwritten plan, one buried
in their DNA that told them
to set posts, hammer a floor,
raise the rails. The buzzing
and drilling and talking
outside my back door
were a steady song as they
built us a deck.

Cancer cannot erect structures.
It is too tired
from tearing itself down,
so he went out to join them:
his friends and father in law.
He sat on an upturned bucket,
watched as they sawed through wood
as if they had owned the trees.
His arms too heavy to nail
or drill, he imagined
holding the end of a board
while Mark cut, imagined
helping Michael steady a post.
And then, no longer able
to watch the deck that was to be,
he stood.

From the window,
I watched as he tried
to straighten his back,
as he paused for a breath,
as he walked slowly back
into the house. He did not lift
his sleeve to his eyes
until the door
closed behind him.



They sliced sideways,
scalpel gliding horizontally
over the eye’s cool surface,
curved like the earth,
and took his cornea.

Where are the blue irises?
Blue the color of the shirt
I put into a brown grocery bag
with shoes and pants
and handed to the man
who showed me
casket finishes, satin linings.

The mortician’s magic
filled the sockets with two small cups
that propped his lids
so they wouldn’t cave in,
so people could look
and tell themselves he could still see.



In the Belly of the Fish

A fish hangs from a chain
outside my kitchen window.
He is metal, painted blue and green.
His mouth is open as if to speak.

Outside my kitchen window the wind
bangs the fish’s metal fins against the brick.
His mouth is open as if to speak.
On rainy days he sways, in winter braves the snow.

Some days, his metal fins bang the brick—
as if he is asking to come in from the wind.
He sways in the rain, braves the winter snow
and sleet. Maybe he wants the past

and is asking to come in, out of the wind,
like he was years ago in another kitchen,
sheltered from weather. Maybe he wants the past,
the one before my husband died and I left.

Years ago, he hung in a yellow kitchen
suspended over a table, still and quiet.
This was before my husband died, and I left
that kitchen. This morning I watch him,

now suspended over the bushes, still and quiet
with a small brown bird perched on his lip.
This morning I watch him from my window—
he and the bird, bug dangling from her beak.

The brown bird perches on his lip
then dives into his belly, down to her nest,
a bug dangling from her beak.
I stand, mug in hand, quietly watching.

She dives into his belly, down to her nest.
The fish is patient, stoic, still.
I stand, mug in hand, quietly watching,
waiting for her to reemerge.

The fish hangs, patiently stoic and still
while she flies out again and returns.
I wait for her to reemerge
and then, one morning, I hear their voices.

She flies in and out for days, always returns
to those tinny voices ceaselessly chirping.
I wait every morning for her reemergence.
Their voices speak loudly to the world, almost ready

to leave this fish that hangs from a chain,
his blue and green metal warm in the sun.
Soon they will leave their home, but for now
they grow strong in the belly of the fish.

The Math of Dying

When all the weeks
were reckoned
they totaled
the rest of his life.

Nine months a fraction
of the thirty six

Nine months.

to grow
a person
or to produce
the number of cells
to kill a body.

When all the days
were added
the sum equaled
enough pain
to reach forever.

How do you measure
the length of a life?

Check off
the calendar boxes
into months, evidence
of past possibility.
Turn the pages back.
January is still there.

When the weeks
are calculated,
the total of days lived
minus the future
the square area of memory.


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