To Nicodemus

Every year - silent and
with little ceremony - my heart molts.
On my birthday, I line them up,

the fragile exoskeletons left over
from the years since I drew breath with new lungs,
and the first tiny shell split
down the middle and fell off, sighing.

I can see the contours of that old granite,
the outline of that first paper-thin membrane
reflected in the shapes of all the bigger skins
that follow, and echoing in me
to the smallest curves of my hands and feet:

sometimes, when the edges have grown too sharp
and someone's dark blood pools on the tabletop,
for a moment I wish I could crawl back
into my mother's womb and
start over, try again with a different mold,

praying that this time the stone
will come out smooth and white
and harmless in its reverberations -
but you and I both know what futility
we entertain, however briefly.

Our mothers and fathers cannot give us marble;
they know too much of cold blood, spilt and stale.

No, this was never what he meant. But if you
count the shells from all my heart's growing,
you'll find one more than there should be,
and hope (for me, for you) is in the reality of that
last cracked, broken rock. Some years ago

it fell from me, sighing, split
in two because I drew breath with new lungs
and opened new eyes to a dazzling glory,
and the new heart was strong flesh and
bright, living blood in a perfect frame that

echoes stronger in my body every day.
My hands and feet still follow
the old patterns sometimes, but it's
life and love that wins in the end, and I know

the matter of my birth
is settled.

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