by Rhiannon Conley



We watch a fish tank bubbling in the waiting room,
the fish flitting like leaves. Your little hands rest against the glass,
the glass coated on the inside with a thin slick of algae, your hands
just holding on to the last, thin bit of baby fat. We watch a snail
wind his way through the green, his—what? Feet? Mouth?
Who would know?—leaving a trail that meets, finally, his shell.

The snail is a chambered animal.
That is to say his home, his shell, is a chamber to house his body,
to hold his life. The shell is a spiral, perfect clockwise calcium
winding into an equation that says, “Yes,” that says,
“This is correct,” and the snail functions. The snail’s shell
is a numerology I don’t understand
that builds itself into a home—this chamber.

Your heart is a chamber, though flawed,
the walls refusing to close enough to call what it is
a home. I’ve never been good at math, but spend these doctor visits
counting. How many cells must grow to form tissue,
how much tissue must grow to stop your murmuring?

They tell me it will close; the hole, it will close.
When I think of the math I realize that maybe it never will—
the leak in your tank always trickling, always leaving a trail
of blood, oxygen—the chamber forever weak.
We watch your heartbeat on the echocardiogram,
the glowing white image made of numbers, made of electricity,
arranging data, a current, into something meaningful,
and they say, “We don’t need to see him again anytime soon.”
It’s fine, but not fine. Functional, but who can know?
“Call us if you see any symptoms.”

The hole isn’t closed. I’ll be writing this poem
for the rest of my life, wishing I knew how to do math.
I’ll be writing about how I failed to build you a body correctly
like a snail who builds their shell counter-clockwise.
Fine, but not fine. Functional, but maybe not.
Who can know? Call us if you see any symptoms.

At the doctor’s office I don’t ask how my body
could have done this to yours, and
if there were another little hearth constructed inside me,
built from one cell into many, the chamber made into a home—
would it, too, spring a leak? Who can know?



Rhiannon Conley is a poet and writing instructor living in North Dakota. Her work has appeared in Occulum, Literary Mama, Longleaf Review, the Penn Review, Rust + Moth, and more. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016 and 2018 and for Best of the Net in 2018. Her first chapbook, Less Precious, was published by Semiperfect Press in 2017. She writes an irregular newsletter of short poetic essays called Smol Talks and more regularly Tweets @RhiannonAdmidas.

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