Sophie Mayer


These running days it's all my Artemis
prosthesis. Her princess dress
refusal puzzled Zeus: tunic,
leggings, boots or barefoot.
Wouldn't catch her with no quiver.
My friend Shelagh, the archer, I wear her
armguard, hard
about these writing fingers & their aches.

Call it phylactery or Katniss, this
discipline I lack begins at fingertip, runs zipwire tree- to
treetop, corpuscle on corpuscle
hangs as fire :: constant
oscillation, a hunt for nothing –
for the nothing that hangs it all
together. Dream, then, of a collider

that slide of the bowstring, dance
of the target. All those perfects. Moving
towards what's moving, still
of it: pelvic girdle is the rim
of a bowl and singing (water-filled
and fingertip again, callused

by the press of letters, such alphabets
engendered [where a is for girl
{such curves} and x is for the invisible
invisible, its power] tangentially
from the need to move the pencil
against the heart, the pulse point
on my palm that can't shut up).

Gulp. Blood stutter. And the run again … or
stumble, rather, damn skin unlimiting
against diurnal, sodden blur. It's all:
forgetting what I have forgotten in
fingertips that yearn, fumbling, for focus,
for the words to – even – name

a calm and grace. Her high, unpeopled
places. Her weather eye. Her absolutely

* * *



It is the art of naked, a stretch in skin. Speaking of, or from. Within. A sightline, split. It is not embodiment. It is upswept; for observation. It is lineament, liniment, Soviet medication to prevent puberty. A secret (unmenstruate). It is the limit, addictive, of embodiment (call it) immanent, to be (is to be) transcended.

To be a girl is not to be girl: it is not to be. To be not (me) (not) the body a girl's condemned to be. To slip the sullied flesh, in lycra cut low so to reveal: sharp ells of shoulder blades, s of scoliotic spine. The scars where the wings were severed. Thus: each ligament attempt– uplift at tip and toe – to fly.


It starts with breath. With the breath. With a. And again, and. Stoma, cilia, alveoli. Oxygen crossing selectively permeable membranes. These sheaths contain what. What contains. Conjoint that. What we know of blood

is breath, its beating at the chest that says IcantIcantI. Withholding all that surfaces as tension, spills as pain. Loud and hoarse, resistance at the core. Yokes strength and loss: the holding that will not be held. They say: breathe into. Ghost

in the machine.


Holey, to be blown through: all matter is. Space, primarily. What is not space is this, thing; spirit. Or, call it: meaning. Knowledge. Naming. Written on the forehead, the scroll between my lips. Does not translate.

I carry ancestors (no metaphor) on that holy breath of naming: two women lost, pre-photographic. Their black and silk beyond the pale. That lifting wind that Walter Benjamin. Wear their tatters.

Blood by any other name is flesh, and flesh is matter, and matter gaps. It lacks it lacks it lacks. No animation, no antic, no an, no a. I walk in absence, the self a (whisper it) (not even whisper) long-drawn out-breath.


"compulsion stops." John Kinsella, 'Burning Eyes.'

Found in a cradling: the ribs a rush basket for the unnamed knot. Swaddled if uncertain.
Sailed on the river of systole//diastole//stop.

On the hardwood of a July afternoon. Stop. On the eyelevel of dust. Stop. This skin
which is not. Which is to say: flayed. Which is strip, which is heave, which is.

Gasp. Stop. Gasp. Utter. St– utter it. Stop it. Like you mean it, bitch. Tripped over the
halt of itself. A sign language unassigned, spoken in flush at edges. Stop.

The force of it. Handslap. Edge of sting. Stop. Skinned, that tingling that quotes life.
Slap. (Not) coming back. That bloodrush rush. Caught up. Compulsion. Stop.

And ragged 'go,' in sobs torn against the grain for collaging: some new bone, boiled, to
hold it all, to turn the blank wall into everything, a skin of everything.

Beneath which: the uninsulated hollow whistling with the rips. Still this. The hole that's
all I have. The curve: hara flexed at emptiness. Start here.

* * *


The ghost arrived
with the key.
It was three
am and you'd been searching
since – all the frames
seemed crooked
when a plumb line
showed them straight.
Maybe you should
give yourself a break,
she said. The ghost.
Or maybe it.
But it was swaddled
like a nun (or maybe
swathed) and spoke
in a keening under-
toned by the recurved
necklace of keys against
her breast. Its. Could have been
waist. Everything's
off the true. I'm lying
to myself, you told it::her –
her hand on your hair
was cool like a sister's.
What you still had
of yourself was soothed,
smoothed out like tissue paper
forgotten in a bottom drawer.
To be reused.
There's nothing new
here: a lock, a key,
the same old song, dark hours,
on repeat. A woman's
back, the sharp shoulders
against worn cloth, rising
and falling; spinal cord
like skeleton keys
locking with that dull
ring that breaks and
drops what remains. She flips
you the key like any lover
on the threshold
of ex, and – as you fumble
the catch – disappears through the
crack in the dawn,
in the open door
she leaves you.


Sophie Mayer is the author of three poetry collections: Her Various Scalpels, The Private Parts of Girlsand Kiss Off, with Lemniscate forthcoming later this year. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing and reading. She's a regular reviews contributor to Sabotage, Hand + Star and Horizon Review, and reviews film for Sight & Sound. Her website is