Skip to Content

89 Lines on a Bruise

By Shira Erlichman

The Former Poet Laureate of the United States
         wrote an eighty-nine line poem about clouds & I

want to write about clouds but all I can see
         is this bruise on the inside of my inner-elbow the needle left

when posing a question about my toxicity level.
        One review calls the book “mesmeric...cryptic…profound”

& my bruise could be described as such but who has time
         or stomach for it, indeed as the poet said, “Words about clouds

are clouds themselves” & I for one agree. Meanwhile someone smushed a honeybee
         in three squelches in my elbow crook while a blueberry vein trickles

in the background — could that count as a line about clouds?
        I want so badly a day, nay a minute, devoted to capital N Nature

while she tousles her hair free of sparrows & suggests mountain-y cleavage
        but the bruise is a diva of seventeen costume changes:

Alice Walker purple, underbelly-of-log green, dried-vomit yellow.
        You don’t make this easy, cloud.

My bruise returns to chat no matter how hard I try to leave
         illness out of this, which is what’s been suggested after all

by gatekeepers: But why so many poems about it? You know
         what they say, “Words about bruises are bruises themselves.”

The poet writes in lovely, often playful snippets
         I easily & delightfully comprehend

while my dribble of islands hide the radial, brachial, median
        nerve after secret nerve as if to say we walk already buried.

Not a cloud on this body, but a dollop of queasy green, unreadable
        map, trail of disfigured kisses.

I’m alive with jokes the needle told & a nurse so overworked
        I consoled her while she plunged.

Today I rest my fingers on the keys
        brimming with lust to see the sky change.

I’m sorry, sky, this little puddle
        steals my eyes & all eighty-nine lines.

Line 1 is about the purples
Line 2, the greens
3-10. crush of melon
11-16. blue before it hits the light
17. the nurse’s small talk
18. if she counts up or down
19. the snap of gloves
20-42. skillful quiet or quiet skill (sometimes it’s hard to tell)
43. the waiting room overflowing at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday
44-60. I’m held captive by a vial filling with me
61. flesh mood-rings into another color
62-72. strangers who notice
73. family who doesn’t
74-81. lover avoiding the spot with her mouth
82. the results of the toxicity test
83-87. the psychiatrist’s voice delivering the news
88. press down
89. the tenderness




Listen as Shira Erlichman reads "89 Lines on a Bruise."

Added: Tuesday, December 17, 2019  /  Used with permission.
Shira Erlichman
Photo by Hieu Minh Nguyen.

Shira Erlichman is a poet, musician, and visual artist. Born in Israel, she immigrated to the US when she was six. Her poems explore recovery — of language, of home, of mind — and value the "scattered wholeness" of healing. She earned her BA at Hampshire College and has been awarded the James Merrill Fellowship by the Vermont Studio Center, the Visions of Wellbeing Focus Fellowship at AIR Serenbe, and a residency by the Millay Colony. Her work has been featured in PBS NewsHour’s Poetry Series, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times, among others. Her debut poetry book, Odes to Lithium, came out in September 2019. She is also the author and illustrator of the picture book Be/Hold. She lives in Brooklyn where she teaches writing and creates.

Other poems by this author