The Contortionist’s Spine (a poem)

Two hundred and eighty-two days—
The number of days she hummed on my back
To the tune of B-flat and a black hole
Fifty-seven octaves below middle C

That’s where I’d like to go for a swim,
In star and moonshine
Somewhere between your green-apple flesh
In the taste of sugar lips and grapevine

That’s from where all glow descends
From far away and wholly too close to see
That’s from where I carry my heart
Between my legs–oh, my back, help, my back, help, my knees

Somewhere between B-flat and a black hole
Fifty-seven octaves below middle C
Sprouted a Pharaoh from a flower
And they say she conquered, but we both know she is too kind to conquer
Too stubborn, too curly, and far too clever to care

Will she sleep in her own bed?
Perhaps if we are calm as though air
Perhaps if we conjure up Time,
The contortionist’s spine,
And we bend back, back, and back further still
Until over it spill, spill, spills in a great navy sea—
A ceiling—
Beating and breathing and teeming and teething
And oh, here it comes—gasp, exhale—another feeding

Then forward we arch
Weightless we stand
Attracted to a universe strung like pearls in a band
Is the weight the dream? The universe, the mirror, the land?

I don’t know.

But I hear it; it echoes; and oh how it flows
And when I think I understand it—surprise! It grows

It crawled from outside inside and played drums with my art
It waddled from where we, the light, drove the darkness apart
Floating and sinking and slinking back with a pull
Tumbling and rolling and twirling and spinning
Leaping and falling and crying and grinning

Listening only as we do to the sound of One soul
Minus two hundred and eighty-two days
Minus you
Is minus me
Equals B-flat
Fifty-seven octaves below middle C.

But her–
Never minus her, for she was born at one hundred and fifty pulses complete.
The rhythm of our infant’s infinite infallible beat
Where you, and I, and the circle repeat

Oh my loves, you are my loves.
Always and in all ways. And forever.

Dedicated to my husband Evan Steele Fensterstock on his birthday.
Inspired by the art of Aldo Tambellini, whose work and talk I was fortunate to see recently at the Anthology Film Archives as the guest of dear friend Dan Koff.

And by a black hole, which, in fact, sings.

Want to see me get naked? You have to promise not to like it.

I like to do all my writing naked. Here I am rolling around on a fluffy white rug reflecting on the ins and outs of gratitude, empathy, independent thinking, and the plight of humanity.

Not. I do not write naked. And this is not me. Surprise! You’re the feature of this piece and you’re the one who’s getting naked. (By the way, those striped holiday leggings look, ahem, fantastic on you.) Now please stand up and glide your tush to the mirror. In front of you, you see–shocker, gasp–your own reflection. 

Pause. Are you blushing? Do you turn away? Where is your focus? On your nether-bits? Your dimples? The crows feet around your eyes? Your chest? Your abs? Your biceps? Your breasts?

I submit; this headline is divisive. Divisive. I like that term. It’s a term we media addicts sip these days, a tactic usurped as our own delicious brew of modern savvy.

But let’s get back to the point of this piece. 

What if in this mirror you see your soul? Not just your magnetic twinkling eyes, but all of you. Would you turn away then? Would you be too distracted by your imperfections to notice? Would you lean so far inward that your vision blurs? Or would you step back so that you could see yourself wholly and holy?

What if in that mirror all you saw was a Frankenstein conglomerate of Facebook posts, Instagram shots, so-called news articles and stereotypes about the type of person you are supposed to be with nothing to connect the dots in the space between? 

Tada. Now here I am. Your subconscious. I’m looking at you under the microscopic lens of Devourer of Souls and Seeker of Truth. Let’s dive into the void, into those mangy little details. No, not into your calf implants Jonny Drama, but into that part of your brain that stores memory. I grab a lotto memory ball from your medial temporal lobe and here I see you sucking down cups of electric-charged, double-shot espresso lattes day after day, week after week, and year after year so that you can endure long days for people who forge gratitude in every two-faced “Thanks” at the bottom of their emails.  

You know what I am talking about; don’t you? The tornado in a teacup that somehow keeps ruling your life? The truncated “Thanks” we drop at the bottom of each demand email as though the reader will experience gratitude rather than indignation. 

Let’s pull out another memory. Here you are sick, burned-out from all those days of carrying a burden alone. You confide in your confidant, the boss or teammate that you have been dutifully dedicating your time to. You receive an email that says,

“I’m sorry to hear you are sick. Do you think you can still get meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things item to me?”

You wonder, what is empathy? You look it up. Wiki says,Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feelings with the heart of another.[1]” You realize you’ve heard and seen people using this phrase–”I’m sorry to hear”– too often to one another. Each time you hear it, you realize it means absolutely nothing and that it is a transitional, transactional phrase. In fact, actual nothing would be better, more truthful. 

You pivot.“It’s the intent that counts,” you tell yourself. “Language doesn’t matter. At least he or she said something to acknowledge my words.”

Ha! You look at yourself again. Who are you? Are you stock phrases? Are you a drone? Are you so focused on managing the illusion, the bare minimum of humanness, that you’ve stopped caring?

Your intuition appears. “Something isn’t right,” it tells you. You realize that the concept of “intent” is the justification every failed communicator uses when he or she doesn’t see the rational link between approach and outcome. You resolve never to use the phrase “I’m sorry to hear that … ” unless it is followed up with authentic empathy.

You take a breath. You pull another ball from the memory lotto. Here you are plugging away, day after day. No one sees you. Head down, you do what you’ve been asked. Head up, you’re at the whiteboard. You’re alive. You’re invigorated. You’re motivated. But you are alone. And this aloneness turns to isolation, to loneliness. You muster the courage to mention this emotion to the overseer of your work. 

“Oh, it’s lonely leader syndrome,” they say to you, as you plug on day after sunny hopeful day.  

Your loneliness elongates. Your intuition knocks on the door to your soul, “what does isolation have to do with leadership?”  You think, sure, in some rare instances it might, but it’s more likely that loneliness has become arbitrarily assigned to leadership to stroke your ego, to ensure that you remain productive, to minimize the fact that emotionally you have been abandoned or you have abandoned yourself … all in the name of what? And for who?

You twirl. For a moment, you see the twinkle of yourself. You’re a child again. Free. Curious. Allowed to make mistakes. Allowed to connect. To love whomever you please without it being wrong. Or unprofessional. Or inappropriate.

You twirl again. The breeze is cold. You’re an adult now. Your reputation is on the line. Your fragile system of self-preservation is on the line.

You police your thoughts so that you can press on. You are an adult. You have mouths to feed. But, the question becomes, can you do it authentically? See link:

Yes, you tell yourself, you can, but only if you don’t use the word “but” in sentences because people only want to hear you agree with them. You should use “and” so not to offend egos. See link: 

If you don’t, you won’t win the game. 

Whose game?

Now you are exhausted. “Stop the glass-half-empty mentality,” you say to your bleeding soul. “See a shrink.” But your beautiful restless mind cajoles. “For what? So a doc can prescribe you medication for using your eyes and ears together with your mind and heart?”

See link: See link:

And then you snap out of it. You know it’s not all bleak. And you submit, as you often do: “There are many possible ways to solve a problem.”

And you smile. You smile because you want to smile. Because smiling is true to your nature.

And you agree. You agree that we don’t understand the problems we are trying to solve. Because we are too afraid to be naked to even our own thoughts. Because we read. We see. We regurgitate what other’s have said. But our own ideas, our own thoughts–we don’t allow ourselves the space or the freedom to form them. We are too afraid of what people will think. It would be like walking into a plastic surgeon’s office and asking, “what part of my body could use improvement?” We would see too many red lines. 

But the surgeon is not them. You are the surgeon. 

Can you distinguish colonizing blood cells from rogue cancer?


Without the labels, they look strikingly similar; don’t they? 

Are you the illness mimicking and diluting problems the way all the big banks did with subprime mortgages? See link:

They were so self-serving that it hit the world like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. See link:

It’s the space between that counts. 


My dream is that we will allow our children the freedom to see themselves as they are and not through the lens of the circus funhouse mirrors we force down our own throats. 

My dream is that we remember that our most important work is self-reflection. Followed by action. Followed by more self-reflection. 

Our children are watching.

If you appreciate my writing and would like for me to continue, please share this post. 

Tara Makhmali is a confident, over-assertive, worthy, worthless, lazy, overambitious, un-leaning, too-far-leaning business woman with self-esteem issues. She is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister. She has a bachelors degree in English from the University of Massachusetts and a certification in project management. On occasion, she plays guitar and classical piano instead of doing laundry. Her debut fiction novel, MISSWIRED, is available for purchase on Amazon

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