September Lit: "Strikethrough" by Rob Arnold

Poetry by Rob Arnold
September 14, 2016

Photo Credit: Ieaac via Flickr

For September, we bring you this new poem by Rob Arnold. The poem is about intimacy between two people, about baring and sharing the scars of the past with each other, about managing each others pain and vulnerability, and about recognizing the imperfection that makes up the individuals creating a partnership.

-- Karissa Chen, Senior Literature Editor



There are nights

we take off our clothes

to read the stories written over us,

nights we unmask the pain,

the moment of clarity

when our skin parted

and the violence rushed in,

seams where the boundary

between one life and the next grow thin,

where mortality simmers through,

intimacies that lovers might reveal

when they first undressed

as we did years ago,

then did again, haltingly,

after surgery had drawn its mark.

Though I understand I’m not

supposed to look, not supposed

to notice how the scar

bisects you nape to pelvis

like a terrible strikethrough,

just as you pretend not to see

my own disfigurements,

the flesh lumped and puckered

where, as a child, I was

bruised and bitten, beaten and bled.

There are nights like this

when the junctions dilate,

when the world would force

us open and scrape us clean inside,

nights our bodies grow

beyond themselves, their small

sovereignties, when our hands

would meet along the fault lines

of our scarring like two failures

and couple there, shame to shame,

with no language to guide them.

Or nights of impossible closeness,

when our fears would coalesce

around our scars as around this crucifix

of spine and shoulder blade

I touch some nights before we sleep,

when even the darkness

would shed its defenses, in black rivulets

sluicing down the window panes.

You were sitting at the edge of the bed.

You pulled your hair aside.

The slick skin of our scars

shone in the low light, shadows creeping

up the wall as we lay there,

imperfectly together,

and prepared ourselves

for the long astonishment.


Rob Arnold

Rob Arnold is cofounder of the online literary journal Memorious and coeditor of Grid Books. His poems, essays, and interviews have appeared in Ploughshares, Memorious, Natural Bridge, and elsewhere. He lives in Boston and works at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency.