I imitate the other copies on the street:
get up, go to the Dollar General for a soft drink, repeat.
They pass by like strangers though I want to say
I know them; their instruments of self-erasure
are the same as mine: a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil
with a white eraser that will show every smudge, every moment
that reminds us of the dirt smeared inside our bodies.
Occasionally, I write back in little pieces, my toes
struggling to stay on the ground. I haven’t gone farther.
I see them start at the feet, expecting to feel each minute
grated away. The steps are so simple: moving back and forth
until you are nothing but a pair of eyes, the rest of you gone.
It is not torture; they say they are cleansing,
exposing flaws like the fight with their friend,
the hasty makeup with their nemesis, the time they accidentally
tripped on their lab partner so they could land in his lap.
I’ve heard that some start at the top instead.
First they have tonsures like monks and
then the tip rubs against bone so gently
that it kneads the dough of their brains, breaking down
the hippocampus. The molecules are displaced,
and you don’t care that you have no memory
of molecules, friends, or your Harley Davidson boots.
Even if we have not begun changing,
we are outside ourselves, viewing copies
slowing down in the streets,
their limbs filled with cherry-flavored Jell-O
tainted with bad plasma.
As the bodies wobble along,
they bypass the greasy stains on sidewalks
where others ate pencils as they got rid of their minds;
no one ever remembers where to find Alice Walker’s house.
As the news van passes by,
the reporter from Atlanta looks
out the tinted window, doesn’t see anything
out of place, and says
Nothing ever happens in this town,
chewing the tip of her plastic pen.
Justin Holliday teaches English. His poetry has appeared in Glitterwolf, Sanitarium, Phantom Kangaroo and elsewhere. His reviews have been featured in New Orleans Review, Lehigh Valley Vanguard and The Adroit Journal.
Editor’s Notes: Though a well illustrated/de-illustrated No. 2 pencil was a tempting image to complement this poem, the “disappearing hands” picture from Pinterest helps capture the erasure of self much better.