Feature image from Vicenzo Requeno’s eighteenth-century book on gestural techniques Scoperta della chironomia, ossia, Dell’arte di gestire con le mani. Image via The Public Domain Review.

Open your empty, blameless hands,
your mouth where the knives hide,
the folds where the bullets might live.
Prove you’re mammalian by twisting
your neck a mere 160 degrees,
180 if you’re under 30. It’s the seven
vertebrate that give you away.
Even giraffes have that number.
Even the smallest of the squirrels.
Your hands passed down to you by seals.
Bones from the bat’s impossible wings.
Touching the forehead signals humility
and servitude. It signals that in a flash,
you’d bend to shine his shoes,
marry his ridiculous son.
Chain of command the old
trickle-down economics,
with you standing on the bottom step,
waiting for pennies to rain down.
On his collar there’s a bird of prey
with its whopping 14 vertebrate
and 270 degrees of freedom to the neck.
Don’t you wish your camouflage
let you blend into the barracks?
Don’t you wish his eyes
would go somewhere else?
When saluting, the arm should make
an audible snap, as if the bones were giving.
While your hand’s up there,
scratch your eyebrow.
It bothers you more
and more these days.

Karen Skolfield

Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry and the First Book Award from Zone 3 Press. She received the 2015 Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and the 2015 Arts & Humanities Award from New England Public Radio. New poems appear in Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Pleiades, and others. Skolfield is an Army veteran and teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned her master’s in fine arts.