Automaton2 min read


Bianca Spriggs
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You find what’s left of me
stuck in Elkhorn Creek—
mostly just a head missing an eye
with three-quarters of a spine
still attached, half of one lung,
and only a coupla ventricles left—
a phantom’s pulse yet pistons
muddy creek-water and a handful
of pebbles out towards the bank.

And I suppose I’ve always had one
of those faces that people want
to talk to or one that reminds folks
of someone they’re kin to,
because you stop to stoop down
and turn my face over
and over in your hands—
my three-quarter spine
dangles to your knees.
I think you are about to leave me
to the guppies when you say instead,
Yeah, I could work with this.

And you talk to me the whole way
back to your shop about your mother,
the woman you loved once,
how no one keeps time like
someone who’s been locked up
or someone in the military,
how as soon as you can,
you’re out of this ’bama-ass shithole.

To keep it light, I work up a joke
in my gravel-bucket voice:

Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes?
A: No idear.

You laugh and tell me I’m the best
company you’ve had all week,
then admit I’m the only
company you’ve had all week.

When we get back to your shop,
you prop me up on the worktable,
turn my head face up and string out
my spine, its nerve-endings mostly dead.
But you’ve got a trick to bring
these sorts of things back to life.
You rope them up into a skein,
twirling them hand over elbow,
then stick them into a bowl of water
brimming with gold-leaf.
Before long, those nerves go all
Rose of Jericho and begin to unfurl,
turn into incandescent sorbet hues—
they blink like delicate LED lights
strung along thin copper wire.
You work and tinker and continue
to build me into the shape of a woman
I almost recognize out of whatsits
and whatnots you’ve got laying around.

Two birdcages for lungs.
Two beer growlers for breasts.
An accordion for a diaphragm
and extension cords for guts.
Fish hooks for fingers
and lures for fingernails.
You lattice ferns and fiddleheads
for cartilage, modeling paste
for muscles that cement
together old headlines.
I practice flexing them
as you weld steel drum lids
over charred oak bourbon barrel strips
together for my legs and arms—
tin for all the rest.

You stitch the vinyl top from the relic
of a 1972 Monte Carlo in patchwork
over my brand new/old self—
and finally, you stand me upright,
bang me on the back to get my
motor going and clap
the rear door closed, satisfied.
You adjust a few knobs
and oil a coupla gears with myrrh,
pour a little of last night’s wine
into my throat until I blink and yawn,
my eyelids, hummingbird wings,
my lips, two jade leaves,
my tongue, a strip of birch tree bark.

You look like you’re fine now,
you say, Damn fine.
And you tell me not to take
any naked pictures of you later
with my new camera lens eye
while leading me by my barbed
wire wrists to your bed.

I lie down with you, crack another joke,
this one about nosy jalapeño peppers
because I haven’t the heart
to say you haven’t even begun
to reach, let alone repair
my most damaged part.

  • Bianca Spriggs

    Bianca Lynne Spriggs is an Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem Fellow from Lexington, Kentucky. An award-winning poet, she is the author of Kaffir Lily (Wind Publications, 2010), How Swallowtails Become Dragons (Accents Publishing, 2011), and the forthcoming titles, Call Her By Her Name (Northwestern University Press, 2016), The Galaxy is a Dance Floor (Argos Books, 2016), as well as co-editor of Circe’s Lament: Anthology of Wild Women Poetry (Accents Publishing, 2015). Bianca is the creator and program director for The SwallowTale Project: Creative Writing for Incarcerated Women, as well as Managing Editor for pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture and Poetry Editor for Apex Magazine. You can learn more about her shenanigans at

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