sporklet 11
Matthew DeMarco




The boy locked

in my chest


is six inches tall.

I don’t know


his name or how

he got there.


One day I came to,

and there he was:


asparagus legs,

round walnut head,


slim torso like a nail

file, his vegetable legs


tucked against the grate

of his paper-thin chest,


its brillolike hatches

grinding bits of thigh.


His toothpick arms

press points against


my heart. They threaten

to drain me of my blood,


to make this atrium drip.





I tell the boy inside my chest about the things

I like. I mention long bus trips, books of poems,

the way hotel rooms are sterile and clean and smell

kind of strange, certain people who don’t press you

but who still respect what you have to say. Also, I mention

I like the last globs of fruit that you gnaw off the pits

of stone fruits. I like the face of the cat, I tell him, and also

the sensation of removing a thick film of lint from the screen

in the laundry machine, even though I also like to pretend

that it annoys me when other tenants neglect to do this

after they use the machine. I like the feeling I get,

I assure him, when he stretches out his stalky vegetable

legs and plays tap dance on my stomach, or when his walnut

head gets lodged inside the bottom of the well that is my throat.

I like the way I can feel him vibrate when I tell him about

the things I like. I can feel him listening. There are other

things I like: happening upon the unexpected scent

of a bonfire, a good joke, the way my back feels

after a long day, the people I trust—the people

who have tattooed their fidelity across their middles—

the people who have thick black lines that form a square

across their bellies. I like the feeling of missing those people

when they’re not very close to me. I tell him about

how the internet makes it easier to keep in touch

with people who are no longer physically close to you.

This confuses him. He says he cannot talk to anybody

except the person he’s inside of.





Some days            the boy in my chest is light

as the smoke from a blown-out tea light,

                           as sticky as the amber lines of sugar

left strewn across the lip

                                         of a coffee mug.

Other days,

                           the boy inside my chest is as heavy

and hard as a geode                           stuffed inside a sock

and slung across the shoulder

                                          of a boy who sild a hammer

in the loop

                  of his jeans.            The boy in my chest
                            is quiet.

He thinks before he speaks.                When he speaks,

his walnut head                                  claps open and shut

with each syllable that requires

                                         my stuck-up shrunken heart

                            to beat.





He wants to know more about the things I like,

so we go to a comedy show, the boy inside my chest

and I. Not that he’d have a choice, if I was going anyway,

but this was his idea. We fall into a pattern. I laugh

two beats ahead of the punchline, and he laughs

two beats behind it. I’m not sure if he hears the jokes,

or if instead, he simply feels the way my lungs expand

and contract in rapid succession, and since they shove his body

shove shove shove shove shove shove shove shove shove,

he responds by gliding his slim self up and down in rapid succession.

It is like a call and response, and the punchline is in the middle.

The effect has become distressing to our comedian.

He noticed that I would laugh before the appropriate moment

(how rude, in its own right), and that I’d then proceed

to rock my shoulders back and forth when everybody else

sighed the heavy breath that follows behind belly laughs.

The comedian glares at me, and I point inside my chest.

I shake my head. The comedian doesn’t know about the boy

inside my chest. “Hey man,” he says. “You enjoying

the show, buddy? Or are you just about to Linda Blair

all over my fucking set?” I do not laugh at this punchline

in advance, or even at the appropriate moment, but

two beats later, my shoulders rock swiftly back and forth.





The boy inside my chest is tired of the wet

              pressure that squeezes the nut of his head


until it is ready to crack beneath the constant

              humming of my muscles. His stalky legs and


spindly arms feel little pressure, but sometimes

              they bruise beneath the force of my


stretching. He is in want of hollow places.

              I go to sleep. He shoulders his narrow


build into the place between my third and fourth

              ribs. His head is the bump that forms


my third nipple. From the moment I dress,

              I place my hand over his head. Crack


wise, little boy, and I’ll push you back inside.





The boy inside my ribs is silent, but

                                                   ever present.

I talk to my boss and he is sticking   out   in the folds of my shirt. Be good, now.

            I hold my partner and he is in my chest     pressed against her.


Everywhere I go: Here is your change.

                              Did you steal something?

                                             What’s that beneath your shirt?


Oh, don’t mind that.

That’s just the walnut head of the boy who lives inside my chest.


Who could say that?               Like a bone out of place. Most people don’t draw




To spook him, I read the Bible.

He asks, if you take me out, will I make a woman?


I explain, no, that was just for the first woman.

He asks if he might already be a woman.


I apologize. I’d never considered that before.





The small person inside my ribs has been silent for several days now, and it almost feels as if my third and fourth ribs have fused together and swallowed up the person in one large rib. It is painful, but I go about my business anyway, albeit a little bit more slowly and with more frequent breaks. I’ve been getting winded too easily as I climb the two flights of stairs at the end of the train line on my morning commute. I feel a growing fizzle beneath my left pectoral where the person’s walnut head forms what appears from the outside to be a third nipple, and I worry about the day when my skin will begin to fizzle, because what then? What happens then? What if the skin over my mega-rib fizzles like a burning static and disintegrates before the person who was hitherto lodged between my limbs emerges anew?




Third Day in Bed


The small person

who has become

the fizzle of my

fused-together ribs

is swelling and

shrinking at a

disconcerting rate.


I’ve spent all day in bed.


Fourth Day in Bed


This same small person

continues their swelling and

breathing. The skin above them

glows hotly pink, and it burns

each second it’s exposed to sun.


Fifth Day in Bed


Above the megarib, all

that was skin is now bone,

a webby ossified screen

ensconces the little one.

A tiny cry falls out.


Sixth Day in Bed


I lift my head,

and the gooey

little person

stumbles stickily

down my belly

and now lies

panting deeply

on my sheet.





This little person

                        who was born from my chest

                                                                  cannot speak, it seems, in air.

Nevertheless, they like

                                 to watch and observe the goings-on

                                                                                    of me, C,

and the cat. I worry too much.

                                           I go to work. Now

                                                                     there’s a hole inside my chest.

Well how

              do you explain a thing like that?

                                                           I don’t think you can.

Now I’m alone at work

                                 but about as scared as ever.

                                                                        It would have been selfish

to keep the little person

                                  inside of my body

                                                            just to be accompanied

by their movements

                            in all of my fear and joy. So I teach.

                                                                               I point up and say

“sky.” The little person extends                                  

                                              a toothpick arm and hops in joy.

                                                                                            They clap their

walnut head. It strikes open

                                        and shut. They do a little

                                                                            hop. “SKY!” I exclaim

again to the person. They raise both toothpick arms

                                                                         and hop.

                                                                                      Again they clap

their walnut shell

                         open and shut.





I’ve begun to worry

that this little person

made of vegetables,

a nail file, toothpicks,

and a walnut noggin

doesn’t want to eat.

Every night we set

the table. C sits off

to my right, the cat

is across from me, and

the little person sits

to my left. The cat

and the little person

don’t eat, but they like

the company. C asks,

“Do you know this

person’s name?” I shrug

my shoulders. The little

person claps their nut

head. We all nod. We

have agreed not to eat

asparagus in front of






For two weeks, I haven’t seen the little person who came from inside my chest, and who has since presumably joined us out here in the world. I go about my day. I go to the bar and order a drink. I place my hand, as I often do, over my chest. It’s a little bit to the left of my sternum. Oh say can you see, but I can’t. There’s a pain behind my right eye, a dull throb, and the vision in that eye is a little blurry. People talk to me. I place my hand over my chest again. Oh say can you see? I can’t ask anybody if they’ve found this little person, because who would believe me? I could try to spin it: They’re very short and have stalky legs, a slim middle, spindly arms, a large bumpy head. That still sounds crazy. I look everywhere. I’m sitting at the bar with my hand over my chest, sweating a little, and it’s hard to see so well, but then here’s a buzz on my phone. It’s a Facebook notification. A friend request. I see the picture: a split-open walnut shell on top of a nail file, and two little toothpicks pointed jubilantly toward the sky. The location says Denver. Well how about that? Their name just says Rib.




Would Rib have stayed

if I’d have been a better teacher?

                                          Hard to think that’s the case.

But maybe. C says Rib was destined

              for           b  i  g  g  e  r   t  h  i  n  g  s  .


Who could keep those

joyful toothpick arms

to himself?


How selfish that would be.                    Is Rib being

good?                     Are they laughing at the appropriate

moments of jokes?


              Look at me. I don’t.

Hard to think that   Rib is a bad presence.

But maybe? I don’t know.


I feel responsible

                            and somewhat lonely.


C says that’s OK. Let’s go for a walk.

So we do.                After a while


the tall grass of the prairie path

looks less and less like Rib’s legs.

Instead it’s just grass.             And how nice

                                                                      is that?



Matthew DeMarco lives in Chicago. His work has appeared on Poets.org and in Columbia Poetry ReviewGhost City ReviewLandfillJet Fuel Review, and elsewhere. Poems that he wrote with Faizan Syed have appeared in Dogbird as well as in They Said, an anthology of collaborative writing from Black Lawrence Press. He tweets sporadically from @M_DeMarco_Words.