CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Four Phantom Limbs
Margaret Queeney



The Phantom Limb Lives a Life of Crime

It drags an unlined palm forward, clutching
a way over ground by paper-smooth fingers.

Each digit formed without ridges to impress
curls of miniature, static hurricanes
at the tip, what could identify the phantom limb,
formed seamless, unsunned, and bald.
The nails on the phantom limb never grew,
never cracked, never split. It never shed skin.

It did not bleed, but knew blood; had crept,
unseen, to feel the loosed pulse of the cut.

It had no material needs, did not know hunger
or thirst or greed and started to steal
for the feel of it: slick, seamless disks
raked from the fountain floor threw flashes
of light like fish scales; a wallet taken from a chest
pocket, leather warmer than air and still almost pulsing
from proximity to the owner’s heart; a purse lined
with the dark silk inside a mouth.

The phantom limb entered windows left
cracked and sucking curtain edges into the street.

It learned delicate tension from the cast metal parts
snarling the guts of a lock.
It learned possession. Taking taught
the phantom limb how to hold, how the void left
by what was taken took the shape and weight
of the thing, worried the owner’s mind into a wind
licking about its loss, rifling the coins and the pens,

the strands of linked chain, checkbooks, an engraved fork,
fox collar, the creased deeds and bound bricks

kept from decades of correspondence, an infant’s bonnet,
diaphragm, hair locks lining the phantom limb’s den.








The Phantom Limb Looks for Love

in all the wrong places. The phantom limb
threads its fingers through the elegant

spokes of a locked bicycle and then fingers
the air curled into the cold links of chain

and receives only an echo of its own body heat.
The phantom limb unfolds newspapers, roots

through the hard dirt under hedgerows, graduates
to branches, then leaves. The phantom limb clasps.

Nothing ever clasps back: brick, wood, rock,
cloth, paper—static surfaces in various degrees

of sympathy to a press, a test, a pull.
The phantom limb climbs into a flock of leaves

atop a tree and wills the digits limp
to the flexing gusts of wind.

The most passive of lovers, the phantom limb
surrenders to atmosphere. Wind moves over and away,

always away, pulling the fingers into air, into a strand
of snapping electric wires, into concrete

where the phantom limb dazes through alarm clocks blaring
a strange, slamming symphony along the street

as the residents rise, run zippers’ clenching teeth
over spines and crotches.

Heels clap the phantom limb back into the world,
into the momentary black-gummed jaws of a dog.

The day passes in a bell curve of light.
At dusk, the phantom limb follows the crowd

into the movie theater. It climbs a seat and clings
between a man and woman’s almost-touching thighs.

The couple stares into the stalled tunnel of light.
The phantom limb holds at first her hand, then his.








The Phantom Limb Resembles

In a house where everything looked
like something else (the brass knocker
a lion’s head holding the visitor’s hand
through a hoop, inked vines loop
and crawl the first-floor walls
while the mother’s dark hair edges
white, straight as light
below a door, along the part)
a small child recognized
the phantom limb inside
the rough shape made
by the tangled branches
of a potted sapling.

This is an uncertain place.
Pictures are replaced
inside ornate frames
rapidly as dealt cards.
A prized vase is entombed
in the safe and the child plays
in the basement, underground,
walled in the rustle and scratch
of burrowing animals, sheltered
from the flexing atmosphere.

Companionship began
with this recognition:
one amputation eying
another as the child
drove dolls and cars
into painful configurations
with a scratch-crossed hand.

With the devotion of a stray dog
or small child, the phantom limb
grafts its length to the girl,
cradles her years after
she is able to see
the gesture. When she looks,
her protector is rendered
mere reflection, a bending,
a translucent angle suggesting
all the other ways
she and everything once was.








The Phantom Limb Seeks a Vocation

Days draw past in a banner, a series
of flags dyed in bright, blank color,
and the phantom limb seeks a vocation,
a way to mark time other than
the five-fingered tally a prisoner scores
into the cell wall, making fences, a boundary
to define the expanding other side
that calls to him, blankly, in his sleep.

The phantom limb studies the manufacture
of material goods. It follows the cattle
through hot, dusty yards and is electrified
by their strands of fence. It witnesses
the instant life is punched from their bodies,
the instant each muscle surrenders
to its own weight. It follows the skins
blanched from the bodies into vats
of corrosives, tanners, dyes, fixes.
Machines form shapes like strange cuts
of meat and the phantom limb is stitched
into jackets, purses, and belts
before being trucked to a store
to wait under banks of fluorescents.

The phantom limb sloughs the dead skin
off feet, crosses the arms of cashmere sweaters,
installs a water heater, and tattoos a name
in cursive over a boy’s acne-rough shoulders.
It drafts deeds and addresses
cover letters “To Whom It May Concern,”
then shovels blood-flecked chum
into the aquarium’s shark tanks,
writes grocery lists, and translates
English into Arabic. It slides each digit
into a greased, labyrinthine motor
and monitors a patient’s pulse.

The phantom limb traces along with the hands
drawing skyscrapers into empty patches
of skyline, penciling a woman’s lips,
and shading the suspect’s shoulders and face
above the paneled witness stand.

The phantom limb melts and hones
the hardening toothbrush into weapon.
It helps the prisoner pull into
the ring of sheet cutting his neck
as life is wrung and wrung
out of the body; the phantom limb
guides, hand in hand, the dying
back to the blank calling his name.


Maggie Queeney’s work has appeared in Meridian, Third Coast, and Nimrod. She holds an MFA from Syracuse University.