Cynthia Marie Hoffman – The Embryological Sketch Speaks from the Page, 1874

 

Cynthia Marie Hoffman
The Embryological Sketch Speaks from the Page, 1874

He drew my eye I saw a man crouching over me a big hand
a delicate pen I saw myself like a fish hook wet ink glinting

in the candlelight. He started to tell me a story. There once
was a creature that looked like a fish hook and rolled across the earth.

And on its lance it nabbed the chronicles of our ancestors
and there were many pages yet to be written. Beside me lies my twin

who will become a rabbit. His twin will be a salamander
and his a calf and so on. I was told one of us would

weave a shell upon its back, but he would not tell which one.
Some of us eventually uncurled our arms. Thousands of years ago

I was told we crawled, we opened our mouths and out came
language. What happened next? He left me to cool in the night

and yes I shivered just a little. A mouse ticked along the wall
flicking the disks of its ears. The pen sank into its black well.

Come morning the man emerged from sleep, the dust
of dreams still clung iridescent to his beard. At that moment,

anything was possible. His palm I thought by sleight of hand
had come to scoop me up and we would step into the world

together. How does it end? His hand lowered the leather lid
that shut my coffin. And in time the scent of ink on his fingers

left me and then there was only the scent of ink. And then a great
many faces opened me up to short reprieves of light, one by one

startled me by the glass pressed to their eyes. Their bony hands
rubbed their bony chins. Each time I looked for myself

as if through a window. If finally my tail were pleated with fins.
A beak sprung from my face. But even the glimmer

of the men’s eyes was stifled by their squinting, anything
that could have been my form rubbed out by their shaking heads.

This page is a white net I cannot wriggle free from. I was lied to.
I never became anything. Dr. Haeckel, a book is not a womb.