Lillias Bever



There was an opera playing—
I remember that—
so beautiful, a modern piece sung by a woman
whose name I would never remember,
although the surgeon spoke it once, softly,
through his mask, and I strained to hear
past the clatter of implements on silver trays,
the bustle of the scrub nurses,
the murmurs of the anesthesiologist holding my head,
his tray of gauze strips fluttering like prayer rags—


They’d pinned my arms down
like a butterfly’s wings;
I had no feeling from the waist down;
a dreaminess took hold:
and the woman’s voice kept wandering
in and out of the minutes, pulling
my mind after it, the notes
stretched so far the words had become

The light was as bright as the sun
over an excavation site;
they were cleaning the area,
taking up their tools—


Down and down through a slit
in the world, earth
falling away on both sides, past
history, botched experiments, sepsis,
Jacob the pig-gelder begging permission
to cut open his wife
in labor for three days; past
legend, Caesar cut whole
from his mother;
and deeper still, myth: Bacchus
slit from Zeus’ thigh,
Athena bursting fully-armed from his head,

as whatever is unmothered, torn
from its context, becomes


Jars, funeral urns, broken pieces
of pottery still glazed with their lovely enamels,
necklaces of lapis and ivory, gold
crowns encrusted with dirt, the mound

of the ancient city, and the mind,
sharp as the pig-gelder’s knife—


There was something in me;
I’d felt it for such a long time,
and now they were digging to find it,
but not like the archaeologist finding
the glint of something precious
in the earth, no, not as gentle
as that freeing, with its brushes
and soft cloths, more like
a robin tugging at a worm
stuck fast in the earth,

pulling with all its weight—


On the plain, the tumulus
swollen with artifacts; in the distance
men bending and cutting, digging
then pausing to lean on their shovels
in the hot sun, sweat pouring down their backs;

from where I was, it did not look
like delicate work, more like
hard labor: burnt grass, a broken wall
or two, goats grazing
casually in the shade, and high up in the trees

that ceaseless singing—


At last they found what they were looking for.
I heard a voice ask, What is it? What is it?
They were cleaning something, holding it up to the light—


“Cesarean” is reprinted from Bellini in Istanbul (Tupelo, 2005).


Lillias Bever‘s first collection of poems, Bellini in Istanbul (Tupelo, 2005), won the Tupelo Press First Book Competition, and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her work has appeared in PoetryGettysburg ReviewNew England Review, Pleiades, and Shenandoah, among others, and has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from Artist Trust, the Seattle Arts Commission, and 4Culture. She lives in Seattle.

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