Post Road Magazine #23

Exact Science

Joshua Ruffin

Lauren called last night: Damien is leaving
her, moving back to California. The way
she says "No, Josh" when I ask if he told her why
puts the conversation to bed, and I think
I understand that bitterness that comes
from knowing just things, not
the things careening under them.
I've known two-pack-a-dayers
to live past a hundred, though cancer
took my friend Taylor in the second grade
without even the token gift of remission.
Face it: nothing is an exact science.
If you asked me about love, I would say
marine cartographers map valleys
on the ocean floor by gauging the curvature
of the waves. I would tell you how in midday light
I watched the miniscule hairs around
Jennifer's nipple, faintly swaying.
I would say she tasted the same, everywhere.


Hollow

Joshua Ruffin

These days I spend
days unearthing

myself from roughage and wonder.
Peppers planted, I impose

Whoever's eyes on the budding
but only write them open

in bloom. Say
I only learned love

when a cicada tumbled
through the air slapping

blindly at my breast.
Too much thought and soon

things empty.
I press my eye

to a slat in the abandoned
smokehouse, imagine

offal grinning in the dark.
Less time ago than I touched

my last naked knee smoke
tendriled from the chimney

like unwoven cotton. My senses
perched on a woman's hip

nudge one another awake.
Summer heat, leaves skittering

across other leaves become
a controlled burn, a small jostle of silk.


Scale

Joshua Ruffin

Pluto is gone. Gone only, yes, in terms
of namesake, of what claim it stakes in indices,
its ability to whip around the pulsing core
of our existence, unaffected. Still, though,

gone—a small truth unlearned.


In a parallel universe, I'm five again: crying,
reaching into an amended sky. My
well-meaning parents say But look, look
how your fingers still filter the sun

and I cry harder with knowing
a celestial body is no more
graspable than a beam of light.


Gone also is the clitoris
of the 20-year-old Gambian girl,
what should be a holy-moment

scream of nerves, cut down years ago
to an empty hood of flesh her fingers orbit.
What does it say, that I bemoan this less
than a floating clod of rock and ice? That I can't help

but imagine those fingers skimming my neck
like wind, triggering a million-year genetic memory
of the gills that once fluttered there, where water
nourished the blood rushing to meet it?

What it takes to answer this: a splay of hands
to weigh real loss. To grip and knead it,
letting the chaff slip between.


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