After Eden, the snake coiled
In the belly of mankind, its grey
Revolutions digesting the essence
Of what we would become:
A creature of appetites.
The pain after a hearty meal,
Like grief that follows the act of love.
At fifty, we must schedule
The colonoscopy. A day of quaffing
Sour fluids, a night of defecation.
A scope explores the windings
Of the interior, blind canyons,
Passages narrow enough to foil spelunkers.
The photographs of the ruined city.
The all-clear after the raid.
To be drawn and quartered, that’s a sentence
For traitors. Hung, cut down
Still living. The ropes of intestine
Hauled out and burned. The livid crowd
Cranes forward, cheers.
Gutshot, a man dies slowly
In anguish. A hunter tracks
Such animals to end the misery.
After battle, a screaming corporal
Clasps his ripped belly, is offered
Water, a cigarette, with luck morphine.
The serpents of courage
Hibernate in the gut.
Each man is tested as they wake
Hissing from a long winter of peace.
Sea slug filtering blood.
Another organ one can live without.
The ancient Greeks proclaimed it
One of the Humors: Melancholy.
It vents black bile like a demon,
Spits its cobra venom in your heart
Until all you feel is rage—
A poison you take willingly.
All mammals have spleens.
Hemangiosarcoma: that’s the tumor
Our sweet dog Sophie developed.
“She’ll gain two months if we
Operate,” the vet said, “and they
Won’t be pleasant.”
We put her down. I felt my spleen
Contract with bile, black with the
Indisputable fact: how our
Bodies fail us.
A documentary: the nomads of Tibet.
The Yak gives everything: milk, cheese,
the tent, they burn its dung, it carries
their burdens, it carries them.
It seems a foolish, shaggy beast.
Square headed with bangs, it looks truculent,
jumps about awkwardly, runs off when it can
then is recaptured by the man on a thin white pony.
The woman wrestles oblongs of cheese,
their winter provender. She says it is the woman
who works. The man creams yellow ointment—
perhaps made of cheese—onto his pimples.
He believes he would be handsome, if not
for these blemishes. They laugh, they tell
Yak jokes, the main topic of conversation:
the Yak, its offspring, its two-year-olds
which are naughty, claims the man
in tones of affection. They have an infant,
it is fat, they say happily, so it may live
unlike the others.
The woman bows and chants, her teeth are bad.
The man remembers all the women he slept with.
Now he loves this one. Together, they pull
the wool of Yaks into coils.
They travel to winter pasture: a colony of Yaks
carry all they need. I begin to envy
how they can know everything about their lives.
I think with longing of this simplicity.
They envy the neighbors’ prayer flags,
newer, more colorful, fluttering prettily.
The man mourns that he cannot read.
The woman hopes her daughter will be a nun,
an easier life, a life of prayer culture.
I want to say be content.
Be content with Yakness.
They smile, they sing of the joy of being Tibetan.
I believe they know I am watching,
that such conclusions exhaust me.
They milk the Yaks. The woman nurses
the child. Listen, your hour in this box is over
and I have learned nothing,
nothing that I can use.
Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner.. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). She is the editor of Illinois Racing News,and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 11 books including “The Lonely Hearts Killers” and “How the Sky Begins to Fall” (Spoon River Press), “The Atrocity Book” (Lynx House Press) and “Dead Horses.” and “Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press .”Selected Poems” received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize. Two chapbooks are forthcoming in 2014; “Bittersweet” (Main Street Rag Press) and “Ah Clio” (Kattywompus Press). Colby is also an associate editor of Kentucky Review.