Cryptic Tonsils

Larnyx from A Treatise on Physiology and Hygiene for Educational Institutions and General Readers

One day you cough up something—a nasty little
Stink nugget, surely one of the foulest-smelling
     Things ever to originate from
          Somewhere inside you or maybe even

To be a former part of you—and it prompts you
To browse the Web for possible explanations,
     Where you discover a condition
          Perfect for spawning secreted stench-wads

And known as cryptic tonsils, which (A) accounts for
Said pebbly, gagged-up nubbin that reeks to heaven,
     (B) means there’s putrefying foodstuff
          Lodged in the back of your throat’s soft pockets,

And (C) suggests some parts of your life will never
Be brought to light or shared with another living
     Soul, given how revolting human
          Bodies can be, as can be their spirits:

You’ve gamely ridiculed the beliefs of martyrs,
You’ve tantalized the break room with shopworn gossip,
     You’ve sunk to sizing up your daughter’s
          Friends when they wear their naïf bikinis,

But these are just the obvious peccadilloes,
Shortcomings any mildly observant person
     You’ve spent much time with would have noticed—
          Other abysses you’ve guarded closely.

Your dream life, for example—in one recurring
Nightmare, you lead a child to a chair and strap her
     Down; under an obscure compulsion,
          Scared, you select from a tray a scalpel

And start to peel the skin of her face away with
A swift, precise intensity, ripping strips off
     As if to prove beneath her face her
          Muscle mere muscle and blood no more than

Blood. Maybe you remember the satisfaction—
As deep as that of eating a rare steak dinner—
     You felt one afternoon at work when
          Someone informed you a cocksure colleague

You’d never really cared for had lost his mother;
Your private preening stretched into months of minor—
     Or better, petty—celebrations
          Spurred by the evidence of his grieving:

His red-rimmed eyes, the clutches of wadded Kleenex
Like fissured eggs confusing his desk, the sudden
     Half days he took because he couldn’t
          Brood in his cubicle any longer

About the brutal fact he’d become an orphan
In early middle age. And perchance you even
     Remember, flash-like, childhood actions
          Sordid enough to inspire assorted

Reflections on the source of your common failures—
Perhaps the books you read or the songs you lip-synched
     Lodged notions in your head like seeds as
          Sages describe them in ancient gospels,

Your mind the fertile soil for a baneful message;
Perhaps the bedrock facts of your demographic,
     Your own statistical existence,
          Hardened your heart, or impure genetics

Prevented you from living the life you’d meant to—
And you recall this parable: someone scatters
     The seed, sleeps, wakes, and doesn’t know how
          Seedlings can sprout and produce a harvest,

But knows they will. The image you can’t escape is
From adolescence, blossoming now like thistles
     Behind the barn where all this happened:
          Finding a farm dog in heat, you wondered

And touched the soft, puffed flesh of her vulva, feeling
Objective curiosity and an abject
     Desire that’s still among the strongest
          Arguments keeping you from your childhood

Faith—you’d been one dumb animal near another—
And you can make out, rattling through the ages,
     The laughter of the raffish Thales
          Riffing on origins for that centaur.

Yes, there are secret parts of you that will never
See light: to touch your heart, for example, surgeons
     Must sometimes use deep hypothermic
          Circulatory arrest, which kills you—

No breath, no brain activity, nor a heartbeat—
Although they bring you back, and you’re better for it.
     You wonder sometimes why they do it,
          Opening people like pearlless oysters

And mucking through their innards: the power? Glory?
Sex? Money? Sure, or maybe they’re emissaries
     From somewhere else, a ghostly hidden
          World, and their motives are just as cryptic. ∎