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The Smear

by Amanda Dettmann

Winner of the 2023 Peseroff Prize in Poetry

            after Elizabeth Bishop


I plant her sterile watch

within my womb, lock my looking


inside her, half

inside me, her fingers


an ambitious fasting, married

and a mother.


She doesn’t break for lunch.

She hasn’t sweated so hard, ever.


Humming like the ocean’s peeling

surface, a firecracker whiffing


human prey—she loves me.

Her job: to make me love her


too. She hangs

her pearl earrings


before my cervix

like an ancient offering, shaky


and confident and distracted,

her glove-covered lilac nails


like the cotton balls in the glass

jar, softness laughing


throughout the room.

While her dirty blond hair breathes—


sighs, like a spinal cord

after home birth—


I think of the lady who smears

her—my gyno—every year,


our lineage the real inside

scoop, each witness to a ribcage


of sky, legs open

like deer eyes before a car


crash. A word is pulp fiction

until there’s a watcher. Mine,


she knows what I smell like,

what color my skin is


in the tiniest

of light-hidden places.


I want her

beatboxing nose freckles,


the waiting

room fish tanks in her wide


ears, and then I see

a silver necklace peeking


from underneath her lab coat

—if you could call it silver—


a name engraved, turning air

like a greenish spoon—


Lily, she moans,

dismantling her daughter


inside me, or reaching, or rocking her

with the giant yellow swab.


She can swim again.

She can brush her snarly hair


before bedtime.

The only flower in the room


is the past—a fastening,

fastening, fastening.


And I close.

Amanda Dettmann is a queer poet, performer, and educator who is the author of Untranslatable Honeyed Bruises. She earned her MFA in Poetry from New York University where she taught undergraduates and has received support from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops and the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Emerson Review, and she was one of two finalists for the Action, Spectacle contest judged by Mary Jo Bang. Dettmann's work has appeared or is forthcoming in FENCE, Peauxdunque Review, The Adroit Journal, Stanford’s Poetry Journal Mantis, and The National Poetry Quarterly, among others. Instagram: @manny_dettmann

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