Encoded Anatomies

A poem from Washington State Poet Laureate Arianne True.

  • June 15, 2023
  • |
  • Poetry
  • |
  • By Arianne True

I – limbs 


this is how it feels to be boneless 

 to slide over ground, only muscle 


but when I lie down, bone-heavy, 

 each line draws a human body on the bed 


how wild to still feel tired after days of rest, 

 how wild to still/have a racing brain 


watching it walk, each step a lash 

 a soft curl unfurls along long limbs 


that is not how I move anymore 

 not today, at least, not now 


something is in my heart, or my nerves 

 something slows and numbs, I tremble 


doctors will come with offerings 

 I already hold open and still 


whole creatures live this slowly 

 cycles of torpor, breath, collapse 


II – mantle, with contents 


I used to think diagnosis inevitable, 

 to think all wrong things detectable 

 and known. Certainty has passed 


through my organs transformed. 

 Something as soft and malleable 

 as an octopus has a hard, sharp 


beak somewhere in the supple. 

 You can’t see it from here. But 

 there it is, and venom (call it 


poison) spreads the same whether 

 or not you watch. Know what bit. 

 I’ll see a heart specialist next week. 


I wonder if she knows which 

 tender set of cells grows itself 

 three hearts: one for each set 


of gills, and one for the rest 

 of everything. There are not 

 second and third hearts 


powering my lungs. She knows 

 that already, before meeting. 

 What will she and my body 


say to each other in that office? 

 I’ve become more afraid, leave 

 trails of ink wherever I go. 


III – (it’s not all in your) head (but it’s there too) 


You look last at my eyes. We meet them so rarely these days. 

 You know what it is to be sick like this, a body full of 

 thresholds and tipping points. Too many people 

 I love are sick. From when we didn’t die. A 

 radula is a rasp, is a ribbon. In octopuses, 

 balance is fluid floating in fluid. This is 

 older than two summers. Roots in 

 the brain, the nervous system. 

 Your life hides in your soft 

 shell. Ripples (quiet). No 

 one knows what’s 

 wrong. What 


 But you 



Washington State Poet Laureate Arianne True is traveling throughout the state holding public readings and events. Find an event near you.

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