Poem 146 ± October 28, 2015

Charif Shanahan

beyond the village wall his wrists
tied with rope staked into sand his throat
empty his loincloth balled up and pressed
flush against the perineum warm
copper hammered thin and sharp
circles him therehis smoothest flesh
if not early morning it is exactly noon
his eyes roll back into frenzied lids
before the rip into him
and the great wound
covered in sweet wood ash and at last
the long sleep while dogs eat the blood-meat
discarded beside the well
and his waking in air cooled by night
to stand squinting through low fog
at a woman being swallowed by a snake



By day three, waist-deep in clay,
he is ready, if still
breathing, to accept

the hot needle, probing
the lost urethra,
his body then put back

into clay. By month six,
the surface is a gnarl
of skin, discolored,

a quilt of yellow moons:
A shadow of hunger,
as a hand removed

from earth remembers
how it felt to be

to enter another warmth
and then to be without—

shanahan author photo 1Charif Shanahan is the author of Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing (Southern Illinois University Press, 2017), winner of the 2015 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including ApogeeBarrow StreetBoston ReviewiO: A Journal of New American PoetryLiterary HubThe Manhattanville ReviewThe New RepublicPhantom Books, and Prairie Schooner.  His translations from Italian and German have appeared in A Public Space and Circumference, among other publications, and have been performed by the Vienna Art Orchestra. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and twice a semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. A Cave Canem graduate fellow, he holds degrees from Princeton University, Dartmouth College, and New York University.  Formerly Programs Director of the Poetry Society of America, Charif is poetry editor of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine and a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Morocco.

This poem originally appeared in Prairie Schooner (Summer, 2015)