(for Julie Bianca Dahl)
Surgeons in an airport bus are lions at a zoo.
They laze, dimly happy to see you.
Tails barely flickering in the stagnant savannah air,
Khaki pants sticking to pleather seat cushions,
They look up only when you mention meat.
Their forearms are clean, but you can smell the blood,
See the line of skin roughened from washing.
I tell them that I paint the body parts they move.
We speak of organs as objects of art,
The pinking liver finding itself alive in a new home,
The invigorated pancreas, spurting kidneys—oh, joy of piss!
Above all the heart and lungs, the cracking of the birdhouse
To resituate a canary that can sing, the addition of wind instruments
To rasping orchestras, although the conductor will beat the players still.
They tell me the heart starts beating when you move it from a cage of ice
Into a new birdhouse. Immediately it remembers its old song.
There is no throat clearing, no hesitation to spurt out its rhythms.
But the lungs are the crowd favorite. The lions say lungs look fluffy—
White, gauzy, filled with air, angel wings replacing tattered curtains.
Picture it: blood-spattered lions standing over sleeping, empty bodies,
Cracked birdhouses open to receive new angel wings.
Lions have no business handling these things.
Devils crack and scrub better, but you want more luck than that.
So I devised a safety against the appetites of the lions.
Instead of angel wings, you can have butterflies.
It will take a larger count, but the donors are easily pinned down.
We’ll net them in a vast, springtime scheme,
Lying in wait among the daffodils and tulips.
It will only take perhaps one white lion of a butterfly—
Larger than the rest, clean linen, floating angel-like between flowers and clouds.
She’ll be confused, land on your sleepy torso opened to the sun and sky.
That’s when we’ll pin her to your sternum with a quick bolt of lightening.
No cutting and no anesthesia, neither pain nor the fog of drug.
The flowers growing out of your shoulders will close quickly around her,
Vines wrapping her tight until your breaths steady her struggle.
If a little blood should turn her pink, then you will match the tulips.
Other than this, you’ll stand upright and odd, a butterfly goddess in a sea of flowers.
The fluttering wings will shake the weight of heavy water from your face and limbs.
The passing flocks of birds and bees will wonder why you seem already
To be pressing your face deep within the brightest flowers,
As if some secret knowledge inside your chest
Could smell the nectar, sense where to find the best.
The surgeons have all been sent away,
Flown to Rome and Athens for holiday.
Waiting in muddled exhaustion for your butterfly wings,
You might also dream of flying, cooking, and such things
As butterflies could do if they could only hold on to this world.
Their springs are short and single, they make one-way trips.
You have higher hopes, higher stakes, and softer lips.
I have a special lion, different from all the rest.
His diet is lox and wisteria, he stitches gently.
Let him take a train to you, bringing butterflies in its wake.
The swirl of air and motion will cool your head a while.
Your vision will clear for a while as he nears,
You’ll see the Monarchs’ migration, their pastel ladies-in-waiting—
Your salvation. You don’t want angel wings just yet.
Settle for butterfly, then, and keep your birdhouse closed
As long as you can, your song still singing through your veins.
You, too, are a wildcat; the maw of your pain opening in a roar,
And your whip fraying from taming it. You’re sick of the circus,
Ready to crack wide open your bars,
Hoping to let angel wings in and butterflies out,
And wait a while longer to migrate south.