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16. Birtwhistle, Eloise. (2020) Blue are the ribs [Text]

Blue Are the Ribs

Four Splinters of Vivianite


Ötztal Alps, 3300 B.C.

Winter draws sheep into the hollow

where his body lies. They shelter, leave

droppings, depart with the season. Eventually

the glacier swaddles him. Held in

his stomach: grains of wheat

strips of ibex meat. Minerals leach

from the ice, blossom into vivid pustules

in his lungs, on his tattooed skin.


Jing’an County, 500 B.C.

Forty-seven nanmu trunks, split

and hollowed into women’s coffins.

From single blocks ladles are carved, lacquered

and placed into the tomb. Hairpins, jade

sets, a bamboo fan woven into the shape

of a cleaver. One brain shrinks like the closing

of a fist. The women’s bones

exhale crystals into the clay.


Stockholm, 1628

A southwest wind drifts white-blue into

lions’ gilded mouths and the muzzles of open

gun ports dip to drink. When the lower deck fills

a crowd of hundreds watches.

In the wreck, fish rid thirty skeletons

of soft tissue. Jawbones

wash against cannonballs, grow blue

as if coins had been placed onto their tongues.


South Vietnam, 1963

A Phantom F4 unravels from sky

into the soft bed of a stream, lays  

shards of flesh and cockpit. Jet fuel

winds bright along the water. Jungle resettles

the years. The pilots are returned with the wrinkles

of their footprints intact. Hawaii’s Central Identification

Lab interrogates if the remains were warehoused, suspects

some religious act rendered them imperial blue.

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