For Harry Raymond Eastlack

Harry Raymond Eastlack suffered from fibrodysplasia
ossificans progressiva, a rare genetic disorder in which
bone forms in muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other
connective tissues. After a childhood fracture, extraskeletal
bone began to appear in his body and continued forming
throughout his life. He died of bronchial pneumonia before
his 40th birthday, and his skeletal remains are on display
at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

In the end, I suppose it’s not so surprising
that this once-anarchy of atoms
should sometimes lapse into confusion,
lose sight of the conventional configurations –

or just try something completely different.

A body can only go on so long
making simple anatomical sense
before it propels itself headlong
into that eternal whirling of unexplored forms.

We are contained chaos.
What’s miraculous is that our borders
continually re-find themselves,
that we don’t simply dissolve
into absurdity once and for all.

Except that we do.

From here,
you look like an emaciated warrior,
the dark, delicate caverns of your body
clad in self-generated defenses.

You stand guard over
a surreal circus of deformities:
horned heads and seven-fingered hands
suspended in formaldehyde,
stuffed dwarves and amputations.

You are of it and above it,
dangling from your own steel architecture,
tempting dust and destruction
to get the better of you.

You are all bone.
I say it to myself again and again.
Bone replacing lips,
replacing lungs,
replacing heart.

Your strength, your life was fleshy vulnerability.
The genesis of armor was your death.
The miracle is that we don’t all die that way.

Except that we do.