March 14, 2013

Rob Stephens

DAMMIT AND THE PLACENTA

A week before my birth a cement truck sideswiped Mom’s Volvo
and I clutched placenta like a safety bar on a roller coaster,
but I let go when they wrapped forceps around my malleable skull

to yank me through the C-section so I came out with a head
like a dented orange not eight months after I was conceived,
a premature boy who 24 years later still eats Oreos before bed

and wants to be the little spoon when cuddling. At age eleven
I was the only kid at overnight camp still wearing comic-themed
briefs, and older boys popped the elastic bands of my underwear

against my ass until I shouted “quit it, dammit!” so they called me
“Dammit” like it was my name: “Dammit’s too slow for battleball,”
“Stop whining, Dammit, go to sleep,” and I wish that my placenta

was at camp because Malaysians believe the placenta is the baby’s
older sibling, and Nigerians give it a full funeral, believing it has life,
but in Louisiana we just incinerate the thing without spreading the ashes.

If my name’s Dammit then my placenta’s name was Shithead,
and for months we debated whether Santa prefers Oreos or Chips Ahoy,
discussed parallel universes made of Legos or Lincoln Logs,

and criticized the Justice League for leaving out Spiderman even though
he was a Marvel hero—maybe that’s why I bought Spiderman panties
for my ex-girlfriend before she dumped me for drooling on her boob

one night. Have you ever seen a placenta? They look like plastic bags
of red gravy and meatballs, my favorite dish, not that I’m a placentophagist.
I wish my parents buried my placenta with a tree like Hawaiians do,

perhaps the pecan tree that grew in our yard and dropped hundreds
of nuts every year. At camp I dreamed that baby Jesus
with his little halo hovered behind me snapping my comic book briefs,

but he didn’t chortle like the camp boys, he condemned me
for saying the word “dammit.” If Shithead went to camp he would hide
in the cabin closet until lights out then emerge like a gory hidalgo

waving veins and mucus at those older dudes to terrorize them
or pretend to be a bloody amoeba in the toilet when they tried to pee.
The ex-girlfriend, let’s call her Spiderwoman, complained that I blabbered

non-sequiturs in my sleep like “I’m a Lilliputian / Santa Claus
and snowballs!” and I was so impressed my subconscious referenced
Jonathan Swift that for Halloween I dressed as Gulliver with Lego

men hanging from my shirt, but nobody guessed who I was. Shithead
would have known. I bet he would be the big spoon,
he would wipe the drool off his boob and not mention it in the morning,

tell me that baby Jesus was a superhero and superheroes don’t bully
civilians like that. And though Mom tells me about the emergency C-section,
how they sucked the fluids out my lungs, hooked me up to a ventilator,

didn’t let her hold me for the first two days I was alive, she doesn’t mention
birthing the womb-brother who loved me before I could imagine
mean baby Jesus.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012

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Rob Stephens: “I write poetry because I want to create a turn of phrase as witty as John Lennon’s ‘Norwegian Wood’: ‘I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me’; because I want to write a Bach fugue, intricate as a wasp hive; because I want to be as sexy as the bassoon in Stravinksy’s le sacre du printemps. So I saunter over to the keyboard, bang out a few notes, and hope to create a decent melody.”