Sarah Shirley



My darling was a machine gun in the army,
they picked him as a cadet for his good eye
and steady hand. They married him to metal,
fused the breech block to his chest, soldered up
the barrels of his arms, splicing extra muscle in
to help him bear the load.

My darling came home battered and dented
but mostly whole, honorably discharged. We
half laughed at the word stamped across
the bottom of the letter: decommissioned.

My darling came back to our cottage far from
the noise of battlefields. At night I would hear
the pneumatic hiss of his arms extending, smell
the ozone creeping up the stairs before him, wafting
into our bedroom of cotton and moonlight,
his joints whirring softly under skin. He would lie
down gentle and I’d put my hands on cool metal.

My darling is fading now, we compare my
age spots with the blue-gray patina that invades
him. I swallow my heart pills as he anoints
himself with oil. My skin is crepe paper
and we can no longer share a bed, but we link hands
at night, and I watch the faltering laser in his bad eye
paint stuttering red blooms upon the ceiling.

My darling sleeps fitfully, twitching at each creak
as the house settles beneath his weight,
and I curl my fingers against the small patch
of skin at his wrist, feeling for the pulse transmitted
from the soft heart inside his old chest.



Sarah Shirley lives in Hamilton, New Zealand with her husband and two young children. She has worked as a molecular biologist and now is in her final year of medical school. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in takahē magazine, the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017, Pedestal, Star*Line, Ars Medica, Intima, The Healing Muse, and Atlas.


Editor’s Note: This is just as much a love poem as it is, perhaps in the context of the narrative arc in these poems, as it is about a time after the final war. The image of the cyborg—a rearmed bionic commando— is from Good Wallpaper,

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