Poem of the Week | May 29, 2017

This week, we are proud to present a new poem by Emma Hine. Hine holds an MFA from New York University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, and Radar Poetry, among others. She works at the Academy of American Poets and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Hine was a 2016 finalist for the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Enter here!

Author’s note:

In this poem, I’m looking at how extreme love and extreme vulnerability can interact in family relationships, and how inherited family stories can serve as guiding principles and personal mythologies. This story about my great-grandmother has become more important to me over time, as my sense of personal vulnerability has evolved to include an awareness of the responsibilities that I may, someday, experience in parenthood—and with this, I’ve developed new gratitude for the sacrifices my parents have made to care for me.


Dipping Achilles


Now that she’s grown up, somehow,
my sister still presses her thumb
into that soft nest of veins where her clavicle
branches, the jugular notch, which she says
is the part of her body that has always felt
most vulnerable. When she was little
she’d hold her hand there and ask,
with terror, if someone might scoop
her throat out with a spoon. Me,
I dream about forces ripping my jaw
away from my skull, leaving just upper teeth
and a tongue flopped under them.
Maybe we all have secret places
where the potential damage feels most real.
Our mother did well—we’re here,
and we love her—but how can I know
what it took? It’s almost mythological.
In a family story, my great-grandmother
nurses her baby, my grandmother,
under a tree. She hears a noise and looks up.
A centipede is falling towards her
from a branch, its back-plates twisting.
She moves the baby’s head
so the creature, segmented and heavy,
lands on her exposed breast. A hundred
pricked toes latch and unlatch.
For the rest of her life she had a centipede-
shaped scar. Someday I’ll have a baby
with a groove in her head for her brain
to bloom towards, a sweet spot I could push
my thumb into and ruin for life.