Poem of the Week | November 02, 2020
Matthew Tuckner “Tombstoning”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Tombstoning” by Matthew Tuckner!
Matthew Tuckner is a writer from New York. He received his BA from Bennington College and is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at NYU. He received the 2019 Green Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets, selected by Rick Barot, and a scholarship from the NYS Summer Writers Institute. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Bear Review, Coal Hill Review, Crab Creek Review, Kestrel, TAGVVERK, and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. He currently works as a staff reader for The Adroit Journal.
Ever since my first near death
experience, I have been collecting
my toenails in a jar labelled Bay
Leaves at the far end of my spice shelf.
Because I was not suspended
from the ceiling, but was flat
on the floor throughout my first
near death experience I did not
meet my spirit in the way I meet
a new scar, or the third meal
of the day, but it was not nothing
I met. My spirit was shorter than me,
slightly taller than the slats of light
that sometimes break through
the borders holding back the spill of
my teeth. My spirit is the thing
that shouts out as I jump off a cliff
aligning myself in the tradition
of tombstoning; leaping feet-first
into the sea from any accessible
high point, forcing the stomach
to rise into the figure of speech
known as the throat. Consulting
the Near-Death Experience Research
Foundation, I find out everybody
who has almost died is still alive
and would like to show it.
“Former atheist here. Four words:
bright lights…white clouds.” @Sibyl says.
I tell her that I almost died tombstoning
and she tells me that I have a death wish.
I would like to say once and for all
that I do not have a death wish. But
I am concerned that when my spirit
appeared to me from the corner of
my eyes, a single finger stealing
the life force from the soulhole unseen just
below my nipple, its heart, just
visible through papery skin, was
shaped like a heart, not a heart.
A heart like the chipped circle
smothering all the valentines. Not
a heart like the one with all the blood
in it. The heart is not heart shaped,
this should be apparent by now.
A toenail is not shaped like a nail,
this should be fairly obvious.
The shape of the heart was
painted as an upside down pinecone
before we ripped the veiny batter
from a cadaver and found
we were not birthed by seeds.
A jar of bay leaves is a jar of bay leaves
until you twist its head off.
A contributor going by the name
says the first thing he saw when he was
born again were his feet. Complete
darkness, and then toes that he could
no longer maneuver. The torso
only truly resembles a tombstone
when it keeps completely still,
and hitting the water, begins
to sink. Digs itself a grave.
I can remember quite vividly that the first few lines of “Tombstoning” were written in the Devil’s Den Nature Preserve, a local cliff jumping spot, about twenty minutes from my house in New York. I was with my brother and sister, reading, watching strangers dive off the craggy, forty-foot precipice, pull themselves up its face, and throw themselves off it again. They would hit the reservoir and pop their heads above the surface gasping for breath, seemingly surprised to be alive, each and every time. As someone who would rather watch people cliff jump than cliff jump myself, I began thinking of the particular thrill that those who place themselves in the proximity of death fill their bodies with; the ways in which they welcome it. I thought about the telephone pole lodged in the engine of my Subaru, and how it came within three feet of tearing me in half; my shattered left hand in my lap. I thought about the first human heart held by a human hand. Instead of jumping that day, I decided to work on a poem.
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