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Doug Flaherty

The Last Step


You wish you could walk a beach, look
behind you and see no footprints.
Child’s play, you say, perturbed that I
dare speak for you. I will be even
more personal, push the envelope,
get in your face. Did it ever occur
to you—inside your chest resides
the you who died as fetus?
When our bodies were much younger,
we loped along on all fours, aired our
hairy behinds, preened our privates.
Why should our recent body be the one
we show off in photos like the dead?

Thinking you have a real body
is a common error, one I commit each time
I glimpse my non-self in the mirror.
Inside your stomach lies the stillborn
that was once you. Sometimes doctors
make believe your old self is a tumor.
This morning at Mt. Sinai Hospital
Priscilla Alden was removed of her tumor.
Dr. Miles Standish disclosed a benign growth,
weighing an amazing eight-pounds ten-ounces.
Mother and swaddled-bundle are doing well.

They are making tracks in history,
like footprints on that beach we imagined
together, with or without your consent.

Your real feet, oh so tiny, are asleep,
yet reside in your chest, so close to being
discovered by the world, hiding under a thin
layer of skin and tissue. I spoke at length with
the tumor doctor about multiple-selves. Reminds me
of Mexico,
he said. I bought the skull of Pancho Villa.
Next day, horrified, I saw a smaller skull
in the same shop, advertised as Pancho Villa’s.
The dealer smiled. This skull, he said in confidence,
is the skull of Pancho Villa... as a child.

If we believe the dealer, we take a step toward
honoring who we once were, the pure-self
ravaged and buried inside, years ago.
Forget where you were when Jack or Lady Di
were reunited with their inner-child. When did
you commit suicide? When you decided
not to assist the deer dying aside the highway?
How about the time you invited two lovers
to the prom and laughed when they both showed up?

Let’s have a head-to-head about redemption:
we can cancel each other’s sins like a credit card.
Take out a scissors and cut the debt in half.
Pack your bags and meet me at the water —
this is a perfect spot for redemption, for viewing
your child-skull rise godlike on a half-shell.
We are now in the middle of a beach at Ensenada.
I sense the sand tremble slightly — each grain
a forgiven misdeed. Quickly now, look behind you —
not a single footprint. Look straight ahead. Tiny feet
of the steady-hiker set forth inside your chest.


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