“Always Tender in the Wrong Places” by Laura Ruby

Laura Ruby


after Audre Lorde

Two bears and an owl walk into a bar—
the beginning of a joke, maybe, 
or a dream. 
Say the bar is not a bar but a hospital. The bears,
—one brown, one white—linger over a carcass
on the operating table. The grizzly claws away
the breasts, the polar bear stitches up the wounds. 
The owl puts the carcass on a rotisserie, roasts
it over a fire. The carcass must be cooked 
before it is done, low and slow, till the meat 
is charred on the outside, pink all the way 
This will take weeks. 
Sometimes, the carcass weeps. When the carcass 
weeps, the owl spits up a pellet of fur and bones. 
Look, clicks the owl. It could be worse.
It is.
A year later, in another hospital room, the carcass 
waits. Polar bears aren’t much for formalities, 
but it’s still a surprise when he whips aside the 
curtain, whips aside the gown. He scrawls all over 
the no-longer-breasts breasts, gnashing yellow teeth
in black gums. The meat is like rubber, he growls.
There are no leaves on these trees, no blooms on
the flowers, no give in the hide. 
The bear says: this isn’t reconstruction 
but resurrection, grr grr. 
The carcass has forgotten its own language,
speaks in grunts and clicks. It wants to kiss 
the lethal beak of the owl, lay its bald head 
in the mouth of the grizzly. Take the paw 
of the polar bear, smooth the spiky fist flat. 
Pluck the marker from his claws, draw them 
huge and primeval on the curve of a cave 
wall, restore them all to the wild ones 
they once were. 

Prompt: “I wrote this poem in response to Rick Barton’s ‘hermit crab poem’ prompt suggested by another poet in my workshop. According to Barton, the ‘hermit crab’ is a type of poem in which one finds another type of writing—a recipe, a field guide, lab reports, etc.—and uses the form to ‘contain’ your own poetic material. I chose to write a poem in the shape of a list.”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Laura Ruby: “The good thing about poetry is that subjects are everywhere. The bad thing about poetry is that subjects are everywhere; how do you catch a poem before it flies away without you? I find that writing to prompts helps me focus when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m having trouble sorting out what I think, when I’ve been circling and circling a subject but haven’t been able to capture any particular truth about it. Sometimes just challenging myself with a prompt—write a poem from the most incredible newspaper headline you can find!—can shake me out of a slump. Sometimes, the prompt has to come from someone else, someone who is better able than I to see what I’ve been missing.” (web)

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