Taxidermist’s Lullaby, by Hana Gammon

Today, you are soft, full of flesh and promise
Skull swimming with live water
Electric tide crashing against the hollows
Nodes, nerves, endings, spiralling out beneath the surface

My promise to you is not to watch the metamorphosis run its course
But to be there to pick up the pieces of it
When softness alone cannot hold up its frame
And I find you, one-eyed, turning the seafoam pink
Shattered from your earthbound fall
Or scattered beside the rain-damp road
Too far from the earth’s cool cradle
The ants kissing the pale gleams of your ribs

You do not know what you will be when I find you
And neither do I
But I promise that I will be gentle when I take you apart
And gentler still when I put you back together
There is dirt under my nails, but my callused hands are tender still
Through these stained rubber gloves
I will show us both what it means to decay beautifully
I am the protector of the unburied
And all that is too small to be mourned

I do not know what you will be tomorrow
And neither do you
But I promise that I will find you before the tide goes out
Even if you are not there to see it
Before the last of a lifetime’s softness
Can come running through the cracks, with the gentle bugs

Hana Gammon was born in 2002 in Cape Town, South Africa, and has loved writing for as long as she can remember. Much of her work is inspired by her thoughts and questions surrounding life, death, and change. Her poetry has been published in the AVBOB Poetry Project and the 2022 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award Anthology. Her short story, “The Undertaker’s Apprentice” won the Africa region for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Hana is currently in her third year studying BA Language and Culture at the University of Stellenbosch. When she’s not writing, she enjoys crocheting, watching old black and white movies, and collecting and preserving animal remains.

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