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Perfecting Imperfection | Philip Lisi

The routine starts on Sunday

with a tiny flake of skin, barely detectable, 

separating itself from the sturdier flesh 

just underneath the edge of the fingernail.

I am careful, so very careful–

thumb and forefinger opposite, sliding under and over.


Now, deep breath–

pull up slightly and then back toward the wrist

the first metacarpal a needle on a compass, 

a goal for this evening's session. 

A little bleeding is okay–

but too much, too deep, will be harder to mask with a bandage. 


On Monday, when people ask–What happened to your fingers? 

I deflect with a quip about tangling 

with an especially insidious patch of thistle.


On Tuesday, the thumbs are back in the rotation, just about healed now. 

A ten-day cycle works perfectly,

a ten-day course of micro mutilation,

just enough to take the edge off, 

in full view with every hand gesture in the classroom, 

but easier to explain away than long sleeves in August. 

Plus, it feels good to show the world 

that I would rather be the one in charge 

of my own destruction and renewal,

one sliver at a time.


I have made it to Friday, and like most every Friday,

I think–This time, it will heal just right. This time.

Every week, I wish I could come back just right 

as though, somehow, stripping away parts of myself,

little by little, layer by layer, 

I will come back whole, perfected for you.


Philip Andrew Lisi resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he teaches English by day and writes poetry and flash fiction by night alongside his family and the ghost of his cantankerous Wichien Maat cat, Sela. His work has appeared in Last Leaves, October Hill, Change Seven, Flora Fiction, Sparks of Calliope, the Serious Flash Fiction anthology, and elsewhere.


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