You Are Not Grass
The last wild passenger pigeon was named
Buttons because the mother of the boy who shot it,
stuffed the bird and sewed black buttons for eyes.
People with Ekbom Syndrome imagine
they’re infested with mites.
It’s possible the entire Buttons family
developed Ekbom, an aspect of which is
Folie à Deux (madness between two),
where a person in contact with the sufferer
develops symptoms—as in an actual infestation.
All wild things have kleptophobia:
the fear of being stolen, as well as cleithrophobia:
the fear of being trapped. I did, after
the divorce and my mother began dating—
fear of being adopted by a man
wearing slacks and old fashioned shoes, (automaton
ophobia?) who winked at me and promised to return
my mother at a decent hour. Whose accent
was southern, who pronounced his R’s
so long they became words in their own right,
words at the ends of words; his R’s
like grappling hooks, like a crocodile-
purse with yellow eyes.
Why is the fear of being trapped a clinical phobia,
while the compulsion to slit
and stuff a thing not listed in the DSM?
Nature permanence is the healthy acceptance
that you are not grass but human, beneficial
if you suffer from hylophobia (fear of trees)
not so helpful if you have Cotard delusion
and know you’re not only human, but a corpse.
Related to Cotard is xenomelia: the feeling
that one’s limbs don’t belong to the body,
chirophobia: fear of hands. And worse,
apotemnophilia, where a person disowns
the limbs, yearns to live life
as an amputee. Why the insistence
that an animal have black buttons,
yellow marbles, key holes for eyes?
that its entrails be replaced with horsehair
and rags? that the peppery dots
swarming the blanket aren’t mites? What are the chances
that a man who flashes his teeth when he talks
doesn’t bite? To fear is animal.
To create out of fear must be human—
slits to let the mites out,
steel shot like beautiful beadwork
studding lavender breasts. Phantom limbs
when real hands become too dangerous.
‘You Are Not Grass’ was written, or at least begun, sometime in the fall of 2014. I can date it fairly precisely because it was inspired by the exhibit Eclipse at Mass MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art). Eclipse examined the extinction of the passenger pigeon 100 years earlier on September 1 1914 when the last passenger pigeon, a captive bird known as Martha, died. The exhibit included a commemorative egg cup with the date of extinction in gold. It was this egg cup that stunned me almost to tears. Apparently, it’s not unusual to mark the extinction of a species with a commemorative object. Interestingly, we also somehow know that the last wild passenger pigeon was shot by a boy, stuffed and called ‘Buttons’. The fact that we know both the last wild and captive passenger pigeons by names we gave them, that humans witnessed the demise of an entire species with the passing of an individual bird, seemed even more poignant; and I got to thinking what it would be like to be the last of one’s species. It seems the ultimate definition of loneliness. Like all true poems, however, this one is not the one I set out to write. The passenger pigeon got me writing, but a list of disorders and phobias I came across took over the poem. Apparently, humans are afraid of a lot of things, humans are terrified by the world itself: wind, trees, holes, long words, butterflies, even our own bodies. The culminating disorder of the poem, apotemnophilia, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder, makes the sufferer believe that parts of her body are alien, literally don’t belong to her. The psychic suffering is immense and the desire for amputation overwhelming. At its core, the poem works with the ideas of fear, disordered reality, self-alienation and the attempt to disown undesirable parts of the self.