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CONTENT WARNING:


1.

Not a surgical light above them:
this high-beam flashlight, its shock
cord dangling from the planter hook.

He has stopped offering to remove
their implants in the cold sterility
his office implies to them, the quiet

ones, the nervous ones, the ones
who didn’t wait beneath what wasn’t
twilight and dare the flashing sky—

O bone, o bone.

The implants are always placed
an inch to the left of the seventh
cervical vertebra.

O bone, o bone.

Not a fading light of sundown:
that intractable glow of sodium
vapor lights in the feed store lot.

He’d stared at the half-bag of maize
she’d dragged to her car, feed for a dying
flock of hens that no longer lay.

He’d stared while she’d asked the same
question they always ask: could he
remove what must be removed.

O bone, o bone.

The implants are always placed
between the superficial fascia
and the deep fascia.

O bone, o bone.

Not the headlights of oncoming cars:
those lights she’d seen after her shift
at the airport restaurant. Those lights

that followed her deep into an imagined
self she could no longer become. Engaged
to a mechanic, six weeks pregnant but not

aware of it just yet. She’d watched the runway
lights for decades after, but they never returned.
She taught her daughter to watch the sky, to run.

O bone, o bone.

The implants are always placed
as if a pellet struck the abductee,
an accidental shot.

O bone, o bone:

She faces away, down and away,
an elderly aunt lost on a bridge,
looking down toward a highway
or where a highway once was.

Outside this trailer, the wheat
shrugs against the surrounding dark.
The gravel road winds to it the way
roads must wind when we cannot

see them. She cannot see herself
dying with the implant in place,
she told him. He cannot see her
wincing beneath the local’s needle.

He will leave her with a short scar.
He will leave her to remake herself
through some new story about it:
what is removed is not metal but bone,

the hard center of a life she’d made.
There are always explanations for lights,
we tell ourselves. She will bury the implant
outside her chicken coop. She cannot bury

what she’d kept from her late husband:
the way that half-remembered disasters
calcify within us.
         O bone, o bone, o bone.

2.

His next patient chooses to leave
the implant in the plastic cup the doctor
drops it in after he removes it. Are they
so careless, who placed it?

He wants to believe each implant
he’s removed a world inhabited
by itself: flesh-encased, flesh-built,
a landscape left scarred, scarred.

The screen door whines. The patient
leaves in the dimness of the trailer’s motion
light. Notes the doctor can’t take:
the patient male, middle-aged, smoker

or not, a lifetime spent leaving each
piece of equipment he’d restored to others,
the tractors, the combines, the long-fingered
irrigation pivots. Stories the patient heard

about lights following lights, the unease
after, the ache in the back of the neck—
he told the doctor he didn’t believe it.
The doctor wants to believe each implant

he’s removed a testament to what isn’t
possible, the stories, the dark night
sky. He bags the implant, will leave it
with the medical waste at his office.

Are they so careless who placed it,
leaving behind something so easily
removed? Are they so careless,
tracking us not by what we leave

in, but by how long we choose to live
with what we cannot believe?

3.

They celebrated with traditional gifts, these
anniversaries of a second marriage, absent

all the trappings of their respective firsts—
the farmer wed in her red-check jacket, the doctor

still unprepared for the deep cold here. Their wedding
stopped the county clerk from leaving early, closing up

for some storm or another. Her children from her first
marriage waited on the worn benches in the hallway.

His were not these teens, half impatient, half embarrassed
to witness this impulsive act. His were always next year,

next year. This, their twelfth together, should have been
steel, as it was last year, not the loose weight of linen—

he smooths the new tablecloth, folded in his lap like hands
waiting for someone to begin some unfamiliar prayer.

She pulls the truck into the field, stops beneath stars
obscured by these low clouds. What they will remember

they will never tell each other: the way she saw the lights,
aimless as raindrops; the way he saw what he thought

were lights, aimed at the tablecloth on which they lay.
Each year will pass, the lace chemise, the gold cuff-links,

watches neither will wear, the pause before opening
the aging truck’s doors, before unfolding the tablecloth.

Each year will pass, the lacework lights, the gold
trim on what might have been uniforms, the silent

leaning of needles aimed at dial marks he couldn’t read.
They’ll revisit the worlds a single marriage makes,

recalling alone each encounter: a body’s near-warmth—hers
or his—a craft fleeing into the clear night like an anniversary

they’ll never reach.

4.

Patient #8: as if he’d begun dragging his body’s
sense of itself through gesture

Each implant the doctor removes: flesh-
encased, unclean as a code he can’t write.

lights following him, slow as his own
breath dragging over the idea of contact.

Patient #21: sleepless nights each a spreadsheet
cell through which she and the numbers will fall

Each implant the doctor removes: he can’t
tell them to tell each other what they don’t know.

the down of energy beings incapable of human
speech, which spoke by hiding in her window glass.

Patient #49: the fear each seed
will stay curled within itself, and he

Each implant the doctor removes: a map
leading them back to some undetectable place.

long gray fingers reaching to remind
him of something the alien cannot have known.

Patient #73: at his children, his wife, the bank
teller, the waitress, the lover he couldn’t have

Each implant the doctor removes: what labels
we choose to reject, which we consume.

tall men without faces, with clipboards. They needed
his signature on the consent form, they said.

Patient #119: the glass of marzipan fruit on cakes,
for ceremonies of what is desired, and her appetite gone

Each implant the doctor removes: a map
they must read in a language they can’t know.

three small children in Victorian suits, who sang
their intention to her. The smallest asked for milk.

Patient #132: that machine built of what he should
have said tightening around him, until he

Each implant the doctor removes: he can’t
tell them that each cut suggests belief—

one of the lizard-men laughing after, showing
him their ray-guns were no more than toys.

Patient #157: that headache which comes at 9:12am
sharp, dull then diffuse, lasting exactly 49 minutes

Each implant the doctor removes: each cut
suggests belief, each weighed, each measured.

the gray sitting on the hood of his truck, trying
to tell him about a moon, pointing up to nowhere.

Patient #209: not to hide the scars but her desire
for the scars; watches, sleeves to hide a self that isn’t

Each implant the doctor removes: weighed,
cleaned, weighed again, weighed against the others.

that tall, tall man in the parking lot after closing.
He said he was lost, so she invited him in for a beer.

Each implant the doctor removes: a code
written in an act that denies itself.

5.

Perhaps the lengthening nights bring them, the aliens’
chosen ones, the abductees, the blessed—they name
themselves, and the doctor keeps those names. He can’t

write them in charts detailing each implant removal.
Each name cuts away at belief or the lack of belief:
evenings spent in an aging trailer under a light

too weak to read by, too weak to show another how
each cut should be made: Oh, bone. Oh, bone, but not
bone. How each world we’ve almost passed through

is cut: a farm into yards, an old church into lofts,
the shuttered feed store into dozens of resale booths.
He wanders through this new market, charting

each world the sellers try to create out of the details
other people’s lives could no longer contain. Here,
a crate of paperback Westerns from a chosen one’s

attic. Here, an abductee’s wedding dress, not worn
enough to be cut up for quilting squares. Here, a doll
the blessed must have cradled before her blessing.

Perhaps the lengthening nights bring them, like him,
choosing to be seen among these booths that face
so many others. He won’t ask himself what they sought,

those who put each implant in place. Can they see
him, leaning against this case of handcrafted pendants?
Can they see him tracing the pattern of cuts in the glass

above the pearl of bone that cannot be bone? He takes
the pendant from the case. The chain bisects the world:
we watch ourselves moving through it, each a bone

believing itself to be a body, whole and discrete. He doesn’t
know which of the unwritten names, which unwritten body
he removed this implant from, only that he removed it.

He asks the lank seller to tie a ribbon around the box.
Perhaps the lengthening nights will bring them to the trailer
to watch, the way we watch what we cut from ourselves

harden: a fragment of bone, a fragment of belief.



T.D.Walker’s poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Web Conjunctions, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. 
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