Sparrows tumbled from my throat, which is to say*
the surgery was a success

there is room again
in my peritoneal cavity

for things with no home.
When they started dust bathing

between my costal cartilage I learned
how to breathe from the diaphragm

to launch an updraft, how to braid
sutures to seam

the scratch wounds. When they mistook
the sheathing on my nerves

for seed casings, I learned
how to tighten every lumen to pinpricks

too small for their preglossale
tongues, how to jut

my jaw so their feathers
don’t catch in my teeth. Flocks

have been found nesting
in coal mines, eating stray

moths, unsure when to breed or sleep. The trick
is to coax them out

into a dark room so they don’t notice
they’re leaving you.

*with thanks to Winter Tangerine for the prompt




After the last midnight ambulance ride
I walked myself home, dawn light
fracturing the street soft after a night half sleeping
upright in the waiting room’s starched white,
barefoot and wrapped
in a hospital blanket because I was too broke
to pay for a cab, too rushed
to put on shoes in the late night panic
when the pain multiplied. Working
low-paid jobs with no sick days or health
insurance taught me to measure
illness as lost income instead of necessary rest,
a mid-shift sandwich in minutes worked
at minimum wage not nutrients, how to slice
a frozen burger in thin sheets so the protein
will stretch for two meals, what time
the neighbourhood bakery throws out
the day’s bread, the exact cocktail
of flu meds needed to keep me upright
and earning, which food banks bring in
the nicer toiletries, how to pick
a lock and walk out unseen, to value
cheapness over comfort or warmth, overtime
over days off, impatience
with my body when it didn’t work
hard enough.
Even now
salaried and stable
I am always more
ambitious than is feasible,
trying to work before my stitches
come out, before I can eat solid food,
calculating lost income against recovery
like anything good can come out
of weighing productivity and health
equally, as if I’m at all adept at solving
problems when my insides are in revolt.
And my body, forever
the attention-seeking problem child,
always finds the infection, the unwelcome
complication mucking up my careful math.

NISA MALLI is a writer and researcher, born in Winnipeg and currently living in Toronto. Her poems have been published in Grain, Arc, Carte Blanche, Maisonneuve Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and completed a 2017 Banff Centre Emerging Writers residency. She is working on a manuscript of poems that offers benedictions, incantations, and instruction manuals for sick bodies.