My sister—not the weird artist who
drew me with a hammer soaring over
my forehead—but the one who's trying to become a
doctor—she said that understanding biology, and chemistry
will help me understand lives, and perhaps save them
she said, if I looked at the intimacy shared between the
small and large intestines, crawling comfortably with each
other in sprawling heated caves, I would understand what it
meant to be together and alone at the same time;
she said, if I witnessed the autopsy of lab cats and murdered rats
I would understand the devotion and dedication
of red blood cells, scurrying and flinching to sink into
our veins, or if I fathomed the duplicity of the different colors
of blood—raspberry blood, strawberry blood,
teething gums blood, bloody hell blood—I could make poetry
and conceive words, like anaphylaxis, and C6H12O6
pretending to understand concocted, warped lives, when all
I can see is the flesh, and the wound within the flesh, and the
salmon blood, and the chestnut crust, and the dead—
She says they come at night…
quick and quiet, like diligent
thieves. They take things, small
small things, tuck them deep into
their pockets, roll them like socks, cup
their palms against the warm cloth to
How do they know?
They lurk; each home has its own devil.
They smell, sucked air, thin air, empty air.
They probe, curved swallows, thickening fear.
I say they must come at night.
She says they do.
I say I already hear them, their footsteps a faint
forking of carpet hairs. She says their silence is
deafening. But I do hear them.
She says there is no quietness in me.
I think that's a good thing.
Firstborn sons were killed on a quiet night,
like any other.
I say diligent thieves get only
what they came for.
She says they do.
Come and get. Only the ones
submerged into the night.
The ones rattling as if they were
discomforted, as if they did not
belong there. Quick and quiet.
Taken. Like small things. Small
small things. Lolled and rolled.
Mahtem Shiferraw was born in Eritrea, raised in Ethiopia, and currently lives in the Los Angeles. She is now completing her Masters in Creative Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.