Narrated by F.J. Bergman
Cast iron relief (lower north stairwell, Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin) The operation to separate the Siamese or conjoined twins Jodie and Mary took place in Manchester, England, in November 2000, after months of wrangling in the courts. Mary died, as it was known she would. —John Fitzpatrick, article in spiked The two conjoined panels (4’ x 5’) are identical, but the right one has been damaged. A critical fragment is missing: its upper corner has broken off. They might have been cast twice from the same mold, or one that reflected into itself. Then something happened. The unobtrusive label says iron, but they have discolored to old bronze, screwed to flat stone. With my finger I trace (the guard’s not looking) cool curves of metal that swirl through each other, never quite parallel, flecked with sprays of leaves that resemble swarms of lizards. The museum’s hollowness murmurs with echoes of discovery and evaluation, the rapid rattle of footsteps cascading down marble stairs. Liquid sound drips into the well of the basement of oddities. The cool air has the scent of dry wines I won’t drink, crisp as small bone fragments in an abandoned cave. The guard is gone. Against my cheek, icy carvings imprint an invisible tattoo. When I lick the metal sour as old sweat, I taste the scarred hands of foundry workers. Each time my mouth fills with blood from a gashed knuckle, I think iron. The twin panels, linked like Chang and Eng, are surmounted by a grinning mask of old elf or demon master. If there had been nothing to choose between them, no singular disaster, they could have lived, together, each married, and farmed their sideshow fame. If we detach the broken right side like a flange, will the left side be perfect and complete? Call the left one living, the right one dead.
BIO: F. J. Bergmann edits poetry for Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com), and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. She has competed at National Poetry Slam as a member of the Madison, WI, Urban Spoken Word team. Her work appears irregularly in Abyss & Apex, Analog, Asimov’s SF, and elsewhere in the alphabet. A Catalogue of the Further Suns won the 2017 Gold Line Press poetry chapbook contest and the 2018 SFPA Elgin Chapbook Award.