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Host of Hosts

“[E]ach of us has our own distinctive microbiome…In fact, every individual is more like an archipelago—a chain of islands. Each of our body parts has its own microbial fauna.” (I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong)

I have just learned I am never alone. No Holy Spirit,
no brotherhood of man, this, but the discovery

of my own microbiome, the bacterial host I host
so varied, that my right hand’s differs from my left’s,

that my vaginal swarms have daily die-offs and re-growths,
shifts in type and allegiance, their own beer-thirty

and witching hour. Who knew? –but knowing,
the systemic crash after antibiotics no longer baffles.

Terrifying, too, to see myself as fragile as any coral reef,
subject to outside hazards. I’d read about the allergies

and auto-immune suppression of babies raised
in cleanliness (no risk there to me or mine), but didn’t know

that B. Infantis is almost gone in us—a consequence,
perhaps, of women no longer handing nursing babies

round to a community of sisters and aunties—as is H. Pylori.
Does it matter? No one knows for sure, but I would wager

that something that has lived within us 58,000 years
has a purpose if as banal as that of an understory

that prevents erosion, or feeds some smaller thing,
or that passes a simple message, as with coral, stop here

and begin the next stage of life, rooted in place. Knowing
I am my own teeming island changes everything, each

encounter a meeting of worlds. Each kiss, each touch,
each mouthful a Columbian exchange. All of this busyness

and us in ignorance of it. No scientist, I can only respond
by intuition, if nothing else, a more mindful ambassador.

Spinning in Place

He revels in blood-spatter, my son,
who would never hurt anything living,

yet spends himself in endless sorties,
caching arms for yet more destruction.

This must be better than molly, pure
dopamine thunder. I still see screen-

flicker when I rise in the small hours
to pee, and debate whether it is worth it

to climb to his attic and plead. Most
nights I don’t, spinning in place, a mud-

stuck wheel. I should never haves clatter
their pennies from my overturned jar.

Edward Hopper could have captured our
faces, phantom lit, brooding, and lone.

(Molly: the recreational drug also known as Ecstasy)

In Commemoration of a Poetry Reading, Poorly-Attended

No one attended the reading but the readers.
By the scheduled time, even the hosts

had not yet come. Holding tabbed manuscripts,
we could see that we would share

a practice of a different order, that of stoicism,
the self-deprecating camaraderie

of the doomed in their Antarctic tent. Ministers
of a failing denomination, we read

with as much heart as we could muster
in the empty sanctuary, projecting

over the vacant pews. We would have clapped madly,
regardless, for we

were treading water, and we felt such tenderness
for each small nose.

Devon Balwit writes in Portland, Oregon. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). Her individual poems can be found here as well as in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Inflectionist; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.