STEPHEN M. REAUGH: "Pectus excavatum" and Other Poems

Pectus excavatum

I found my self this morning, deep sea diving

               near the seafloor: coral-conquered, shipwrecked,

                                covered in barnacles, sea cucumber oil, writhing


around the neck of the merman on the prow: a locket?

                I took it into my whale-mouth, swam to the surface.

                                On shore, huge human again, I took it out, looked


inside: myself, kindergartenized, non-Adonis

                in miniature. The locket hung on golden chain,

                               the clasp cold and tough on blubberbutt hands.


I washed it off with seawater, watched it line

                my fingernails with rust. I put it on anyway. But then,

                                beach-combing, exposed by the weight of real men's eyes,


I tripped over the long chain—

                 how did it grow so long?—and watched the lifelines

                                 the chain had traced in the sand dance like paper shriveling


in the fire. Mesmerized, I sat until the wind blew the sand soft,

                  then swam for horizon. For home. The chain, of course,

                                 tugged to shore. And at that slightest resistance,


                                 I ducked my whale-head free from the chain

                  and watched my small self sway. The sun fell.

I glinted once, a stuttering candle,





The Wreck

Wrenched open oyster, broken

cherimoya seeds dark as coffee

splattered inside the shell like ink:


this is what you offer me,

stretching with threadthin feelers

out from the terrifying chasm


and since I never dove this deep

except in silver-tinged dreams,

I trip off my sun-filled schooner


and into you, the wreck.

It hurt.

I misjudged the distance,


thinking how serene it would be

to slide into some quotidian rhythm,

undulating breathless with no regard


for what the current does to you,

stuck there. I have no lamp or armor

to bring to you, just a ladder


half-nailed into my boat,

dangling like a bulky tapestry

dumbly flossing the sea.


I came to save you,

but now of course I need saving

from myself: the oxygen lines like


Medusan seaweed in the dark

your shell shows white it is blinding

it is awe it is real-lie, really small


and in this hypoxic second

(wind/coming) in

my hands fall stiff and cold


but sure: I take the nail

freed from the ladder when I fell

and hack that pearl in two.


The halves swim out,

pool into your familiar eyes,

and in a too-easy whirl


the wreck becomes you:

seaweed strangles itself

in knots, slipping in like sinew;


splintering coral, your bones;

white-hot streams bending

the water for skin.


And the dark, filling in the gaps,

shapes it all into your body,

no longer broken for me, or you.


When we ascend, panting,

and pull up the ladder,


the shell you left hesitates

on the end.


We bundle what was broken, and hope

it sells for a quarter.

Days of 1998

Our grins wild, we only knew

what we wanted:


The crooks of our teeth

cinching air. Ditch dirt mudsliding.


August heat in May.

But we each found the barn alone.



we saw time like someone drowned.


Then the hay twisting like braids

we all would fall sighing, staring.


Rafters. Hours—hours.

Calls for dinner dangling


until we found ourselves

ourselves, again.

In the hospital, after my father's funeral

So don’t tell me I don’t see him right now.

Father! His sharp fingers choking

the thread around and around


that dead oak tree, the one

with only one branch, pointing

at my old bedroom window;


the blinds, slitted open, dull knife, strips

of an I, tattered, of course they fall.

You know, I used to eat fall


oak leaves, extra crispy,

given like flowers

by a mooning boy.


When his pecs plummed, he unwound miles

of red string from round his finger and proposed,

feeling proud, economical.


But when I got home,

Father strangled

with a look.


They say when I came to,

I kept pulling at my spine,

as if it could come out


one long stretch mark

running scalp to sternum,

stem to stern.

Stephen Reaugh | grew up in western Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of the Allegheny National Forest. In 2016, he obtained an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. his creative work has appeared in Pomona Valley Review, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Currently, he is an M.A. student in English Literature at Villanova University.