Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Student Conference

Claudia Emerson
From Prairie Schooner, Vol. 84, No. 3 (Fall 2010)

At first, I mistook the small, black tattoo
for a phone number or a date jotted

in haste on her wrist's paler underside—
then suspected stitches when it didn’t fade.

I was not far wrong. (Her poems: careful,
deliberate, thin as she was, haunted by a mother

years dead—not a word about the brief grief
of the father who saw in her a worsening

resemblance.) I imagined what it took
for her to enter the parlor, where nothing—

garish bird, snake, broken heart—could tempt her,
turn her from the small, determined letters:

think. The word she had purchased moved faintly
in what she must have thought would be

permanence above her pulse, her body's argument
to think what she wished she could still feel,

arm bared for another coming
into being, the needle’s indelible sting.