Blemished (Andy Jackson)


from the Rabbinic scriptures and a Buzzfeed article

A hunched back could be a misshapen eyebrow.
Withered could also be dwarf.
Some of our problems are to do with translation.

Here, perfection and human weakness touch.
You wouldn’t want to distract the people from YHWH.
Without eyebrows.  Missing teeth.  Nose too big. 
The people will stare at you.  There is nothing wrong with them.

A priest is like an X-ray physician — at far more risk
than the patient.  Inspiration is too much for your body to lift.
Breasts like those of a woman.  Bowlegged.  Epileptic. 

You’re shaped into a question that confounds them.
Unmatching eyes.  Crushed testicles.  Blind.  Lame. 
You can still sweep the courtyard, and eat the holy food,
but you can never offer the sacrifices.

A rare sight at Fashion Week — you walk down the runway
and the audience cheers.  This is not frightening. 
All you can do is love every single part

of the body you will have for the rest of your life.
You get made up, pose, look beautiful.
Pockets of the industry are ticking your box and feeling good
about themselves.  Your gait reminds some of a marionette.

Today, you are the most inspirational, viral thing.
Your face, with patches of pigment missing.
How the wheels turn beneath your hands.

People who thought they were alone
send you desperate, ecstatic messages.  You know
even the fit models wear padded bras and butt pads.
Has anyone even noticed the clothes?

Then the lame will leap like deer,
               the tongues of the speechless sing for joy.

Mutual obligation

the institutions hollowed out, you’re cornered, isolated in an idea of independence
                                                                                             rent-stress and diagnosis
               work, the only rope thrown into the hole

some of those employed do well, seem intact, while others are rushed to emergency
                                                                                                             missing a limb or a mind
                                               left with the therapy of paperwork

your body employs you in the labour of bone-pain and flesh-hurt, the small steps
                                                                                             through the pharmaceutical minefield
                                              the work of falling to earth

the tenure of trying to do no harm to yourself, the painstaking translations of
                                                                                                             the body’s murmurs and sparks
                                                             the work of being human

on call to climb precarious impairment tables, to prove just how incapable you are 
                                                                                                             and yet how able and willing
                                              you do want to work don’t you?

still this hacking through forests of symptoms and prescriptions, desperate
                                                                                             to lie down in a sunlit clearing, to rest
                                              to be heard and to be held

in the mutual obligation of shared air, where the work consists of listening                                                                                                                                                     to each other’s troubled breathing
                               with no solution to offer but this

Light which acts as a mask

for the model in Joel Peter Witkin’s ‘Art Deco Lamp, New Mexico‘ (1986) 

Alone and safe, you spread the newspaper across the table.  Before you realise you’ve read them, certain words in an advertisement enter and possess.  Pinheads, dwarfs, giants, hunchbacks, hermaphrodites, bearded women, people with tails, horns, wings, reversed hands or feet, anyone born without arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, lips.  All people with unusually large genitals.  All manner of extreme visual perversion.  You have tried to not think of yourself as perverted, monstrous or holy.  Not a symbol, a weapon, raw material.  But it seems the photographer needs you, or your form, if there is a difference.  His work is his pilgrimage to become more loving, unselfish.  The idea becomes you.

With your good hand, you have already dialled the number.  The days before your appointment curve in on themselves, blur out of focus.  You rehearse your own voice.  One version is self-possessed, with a sarcastic wit.  Another, tremulous and conflicted.  A third, cool, almost oblivious.  They distort around each other.  Home loses the sense of itself.  The windows are filmed with the city’s mechanical air.  An animal turns clumsily in the ceiling.  Somehow you sleep and dreams clamber through your head, a fist of images, oddly comforting. 

Only when you arrive and the equipment is laid out before you, do you realise that there was never any mention of what these sessions would precisely entail.  On the table, a tangle of ropes and chains, rusted callipers, rotting fruit, a human skull, barbed wire, a broken clock.  He prods and strokes your body with his eyes especially the soft folds of flesh, the curved arc of your protruding spine.  The mask is his suggestion.  Your nakedness is yours. 

Having a little difficulty breathing, he disappears behind the camera.  You’re not sure if he’s struggling with this, or aroused.  He orders you into myriad, difficult positions.  It takes a long time for him to be satisfied.  In the end, you’ve hardly said a word, and he has contorted your body into the shape of an ampersand, but connecting with what? 

There is only the sound now of something being slid under your door — your sole payment, a print of the photograph.  In the scoured image, your face is covered with a white globe — light which acts as a mask, through which you cannot look back at the viewer.  You return it to the dark envelope, take up again your quiet life, which is and is not the negative.


 Andy Jackson has performed at literary events and arts festivals in Australia, India, USA and Ireland – including the Castlemaine State Festival and the Queensland Poetry Festival, with Each Map of Scars, a puppetry-poetry-film collaboration on grief, bodies and empathy. His poems have been included in five of the last six annual Best Australian Poetry anthologies, and his most recent collection, Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers 2017), which consists of portrait poems of other people with Marfan Syndrome, was recently featured on ABC Radio National’s Earshot. Andy has worked in call-centres, libraries, and as a creative writing tutor, and has almost finished a PhD in poetry and bodily otherness through the University of Adelaide. Find more from Andy at his website