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Four poems by Vancouver Poet Laureate Evelyn Lau on aging, aching and orthotics. Read more of Evelyn Lau's Geist work here.
Who knew you were even there? Tucked under the liver, a shrivelled and sunken pear, small sac, treasure bag of stones, a stitch in my side— you are chewing me up from the inside, your constant gnawing, your spastic contortions bruising the liver, sending its gamma readings soaring. When you attack, women say it’s like childbirth, without the happy ending. You wake me in the night, announce yourself just under the ribcage, to the right, you who slept so soundly for decades, pink and plump, now fiercely awake and complaining, mottled black and diseased. I’ve fed you a rich diet of sugar and fat, groomed myself into alliteration, the typical gallbladder patient— a fat, fertile, forty-year-old female. The surgeon wants to snatch you, wiggle you out from the nest of innards and extract you through a slit in my side, but I want you to stay a while longer— your little screeching voice, your bilious mouth pushing out and pushing out its stuck stones, wedged in your neck like olive pits. You keep me in thrall with your appetite for pain, your possibility of rupture. VAGINA
The indignity of seeing you change, even you. Your lips used to be springy to the touch, a miniature trampoline, a little fat cushion of flesh. It seems someone let all the stuffing out. Now the inner labia, once so tidy and trim, are stretched and distended, and sometimes poke out like the tip of a tongue in a cruel tease. That’s all you want me to say about you. Lately you’ve grown reticent as a maiden aunt in your middle age, desiring flannel nightgowns and ten o’clock bedtimes. So open to proposition in your prime, it won’t be long before you grow a white fur, prepare for hibernation.
FEET A doctor once exclaimed, Those are some ugly feet! These days you don’t even look human— nothing like a model’s feet in a magazine, slim and straight as kayaks, squelching in the sparkly sand. You resemble the plaster model in the podiatrist’s office, the one he uses to demonstrate deformities. Your bunions, knobs of throbbing bone at the base of the big toe, have given birth to bunionettes. Your hammer toes are scrunched into claws, as if forever trying to grasp at something not there. Plantar fasciitis renders the morning’s first steps like those of the mermaid’s on land, a dance on knife points. Still, I feel a motherly affection for you, the runt of the litter, take you into my hands on winter nights and rub. Caked with calluses, studded with seed corns, you are like the old woman on the bus who wears a purple hat strung with birds and fruit and jingly bells— a dropout in the race for beauty, conformity. The years I stuffed you into stilettos long gone, now I coddle you with custom orthotics, sensible shoes cozy as moccasins. Soon you’ll be granted your lifelong wish and live out the rest of your days in Birkenstocks— you’ll be walking on air!
LOST AND FOUND Somehow the custom orthotic, a slip of plastic worth hundreds of dollars, worked its way out of my sandal in the rough landscape of the lunar beach and hid amidst sandcastles and firepits, chips of charcoal and tangles of kelp. We combed and combed the shore, the waning light against us. Watermelon moon in the cotton candy sky. It seemed then that this life was a collection of losses, a slipping down an ever steeper slope, shedding possessions and loved ones until, at the last, we shed our own mottled coat of flesh, this ragged lumpy lived-in self. Where had the California beauty gone, though the sun was setting behind the lifeguard’s blue hut, the surf drumming? All we found was what others had lost— a sneaker, two battered cellphones, a guitar pick wedged into the sand like a tiny surfboard. Row of burnt palms behind the lighthouse, decomposing sea lion in the rank breeze. The next morning we returned to the beach, holding out hope like metal detectors, and there, in front of me, gleaming like the foot-bone of an exotic animal, the orthotic! To find something, after so many losses! The photograph of that moment shows me with arms raised in religious ecstasy, eyes closed and mouth open in a half-mad silent song of hallelujah. You would have thought I was calling down the spirits from the next world. That someone I loved had come back to me from the place where no one returns. Here in Santa Cruz, where a man in rags shakes his finger at the heavenly blue sky, shouting, Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberry!