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Decomposition Study

1.

When we saw the white-sided dolphin,
seagulls had already hallowed its eyes.

Out on the ocean the sun casted low
with wind from the water quickening,

hitting the skin of our autumn jackets.
It must have been a week since its landing.

A fluke here, the blowhole also intact,
The skull was bored in but much remained,

Out here is desolate enough for a funeral.
Yet why was there still so much left?

2.

The furnace was on.
The helpers lead my body
towards the blaze.

Skin molted like a lazy adder
while sinew pooled like glue.

Bone fractured next
like desert rose glass
then melted too.

They poured me into a bucket
to be reused.

By that point
I was already part of the product,
which is to say,

I was already consumed.
But do not expect color.
This I cannot give you.

3.

Once
during summer
while you
sojourned towards

your favorite camellia.
I sat on the floor
of our house.

My clothes were neat and
stacked in a corner
with the windows jarred.

Then the sun hit an edge
creating an opening,
a wild portal.

I took a mason’s knife
and began tapping
looking for topsoil,

on the fractured skin
to reveal itself
in the native sun. Yes,

This is the task.
This is the labor.

4.

When I was still young learning
the tongue of my mother’s

language was like hiking the distance
for a view you didn’t care to see.

You must learn my mother told me.
Put in your hour or give me the stick.

She didn’t care
if I learned

only that an ethic was bored into me.
I resolved myself to Sisyphus

I filled in the columns.
In the left, the symbol,

in the right, the sound.
Then I would erase

and repeat
until the hour was gone.

Tom Phan was born in Hong Kong, China and immigrated to the United States in 1994. He was raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in Salon. He is a medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine.

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