about the author

Justin Hamm is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. He is the founding editor of the museum of americana, and his work appears in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Cream City Review, New Poems from the Midwest 2014, among others. Justin has also received the Stanley Hanks Memorial Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center.

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The Whole Boy  

Justin Hamm

Begin with a whole boy. Two arms, two legs, two sea green eyes, ten fingers, a tangle of dark hair tossed over his forehead. A whole boy with a whole crush on a small girl wearing braces and a rock T-shirt from the early 1970s. Now throw in a drill press and another boy, one who may or may not also have a crush on the small girl. Observation would seem to suggest that she, at least, has a crush on him.

The whole boy pulls down on the drill press lever, shaping wheels en masse for the class’s next project, CO2 race cars for the school derby. He may be working the drill press, but he’s watching the small girl and the other boy, and when the two pass in the center of the woodshop and the small girl hands off a note, the whole boy loses half his concentration. There is suddenly a great quantity of blood.

From somewhere inside that mess of blood a thumbnail corkscrews upward, a heap of mottled flesh, a bone that isn’t meant to be seen without X-ray. The whole boy does not seem to notice. In fact, it is only when the shop teacher chokes out a very bad word and wraps the ruined thumb in his paisley necktie that the whole boy finally glances away from the middle of the room, his eyes blinking rapidly in confusion.

In some ways, it isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. At the hospital the whole boy and his parents learn that every part is still in place, that the scars will eventually heal. He nods as each grown person reminds him just how lucky he is not to have lost a thumb that day, or worse. He nods and seems to agree. Sometimes he even repeats that last word back to the speaker: “Worse.” But his mind has never left the woodshop. His mind’s eye has never stopped staring into its terrible, tainted center. And in that moment there is nothing anyone can say that will make him believe he can ever be whole again.

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