Hexagenia Limbata

Kathryn Nuernberger

This bug with a needle out the back that might be
its stinger or a body’s length of genital or just
the endlessness of an unlikely thorax has translucent
black-leaded wings and picks its way across my table
in this bar, lifting its skinny ass up and down in a way
you’d have to agree is sexy. What shall we call it?
A man I know who likes to read archaic Latin
just came in and didn’t recognize me, so I watched
him walk away in his humble slouch of cargo shorts
and bald head, a little overweight, thinking to myself
that if he were to sit down next to me and read
this passage or that from some very old tract
on Roman property law for no other reason than
he likes what language can do, I would kiss him
up and down his throat and into his mouth, one
sentence at a time. Among other reasons, to help
me forget how earlier today I read the transcripts
of that poor girl’s testimony against a Harvard-bound
ambassador’s son and how she just couldn’t believe
what was happening to her was happening to her,
so she was quiet when he did it, and tried for two days
after to believe she had asked for it and there was
nothing to report. Because how do we live in the world
if it wasn’t our fault? Easier if we should have just
said or done something different. I’ll walk home
alone and tipsy tonight, as my friend who never
even got to testify did, because it’s a great pleasure
to be by yourself, drunk with the night. Though
it’s hard not to think about how she was grabbed
by the throat under just so many stars. She was afraid
and she wanted to get away, so she offered to blow
him instead, because, she said later, we’ve all done
things we didn’t feel like doing just to get it over with.
I’ll remember how I tried to explain this to my dad
once at the end of a long drive. That I too really love
to walk home alone in the dark, but he didn’t get it.
Words never seem to live up to the promise they make us.
Why would I want to do something so stupidly
dangerous? he asks. Another night we were talking
about politics and transvaginal ultrasounds and I said
nonchalantly that I’ve had six of them because once
you’ve had six you can’t help but be nonchalant
about it. He was shocked so I explained it was
the miscarriage and the retained placenta. They call
the thing a wand, but it looks just like a dildo
and the nurse puts a condom on it for hygiene
and practicality. “No need to reinvent the wheel,”
she jokes as she rolls the latex down in front of you.
But since language can’t reinvent what happens
to you, it still feels really screwed up to lay on a table
with a lube-soaked, condom-covered dildo in your body
watching the movie it projects onto a flat screen TV
of your larger-than-life dead baby who isn’t really a baby
or other times it’s just the emptiness inside yourself
the doctor is pointing at. There’s language again,
twisting what is into what isn’t. It was a baby to me—
I don’t expect it to have been to you. This time
my dad is wiping his eyes, I can’t believe it,
but he is. Maybe because, and this hadn’t occurred
to me before, but maybe he loved that child
who never was and maybe because he loves me too.
My stranger with his Latin writes about linguistics
and philology and charmed me once by saying
he likes the puzzle words make, how he can
take them apart and apart and apart and then
reassemble them into a language more familiar
while he drinks alone at this bar in this private life
of his with no woman and no man. All the while
that strange, unknown insect with a body like lace
has been crawling along my arm. I didn’t notice.
Does it even have a mouth at this stage in its life?

Kathryn Nuernberger’s third poetry collection, Rue, is forthcoming in Spring 2020 (BOA).  The End of Pink (BOA, 2016), won the 2015 James Laughlin prize from the Academy of American Poets, and Rag & Bone (Elixir, 2011) won the 2010 Antivenom Prize. A collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (Ohio State University Press, 2017), won the Non/Fiction Prize from The Journal. She teaches in the MFA Program at University of Minnesota and has received grants from the NEA,  American Antiquarian Society and the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life.