Emily Updegraff

Emily Updegraff lives near Chicago with her family and their dog, Coco. She studied molecular biology and genetics and now works for a university doing other things. When she gets home from grocery shopping she always regrets not having bought more chocolate.


Is a menace to homeostasis, it threatens to chill
the private stream flowing through the body’s

Tapering and widening vessels, from the aorta
through nameless capillary beds in the brain,

To the superior vena cava and back again. Each
drop of blood completes the circuit three times

Per minute. Keep moving. I held an ice cube in
my fist until it melted, my red palm returning to its

Usual temperature before it was even gone. The
receptors in skin that respond to cold also sense

Menthol and pain. A single input for cool mint
and the burn of dry ice. Some men I know dove

Into Lake Michigan on New Year’s Eve, to show
their liveliness, I suppose. The difference between

Their rushing blood and the torpid molecular motion
of ice was sufficient that they could risk this madness

For a moment. The numbing slap of icy water gave
renewed appreciation for the heaters in their cars,

Hot showers, the warm hands of their wives. This
winter it took so long, until mid-January, for a good,

Hard freeze. I wanted it. I longed for the air to turn
harsh, for the shoreline to break like panes of glass.

I need the contrast. To know that during the longest
month of the year it’s possible to stay outside so long

One does not come back from it. A sharper agony
than simply completing the circuit of short white days.

I-70, North of Moab, Utah

He stops the Civic for a scenic view. With our chests pressed against
the railing, the parking area fades beyond peripheral vision and things
become entirely natural, as seen by sentient life for millennia. The sky is
a sea, thinning to nothingness miles above our heads. At eye level, a
blanket of clouds rolls forward, almost overtaking the flat-topped
sandstone temples at the horizon. Between them and our faces, miles
of scrub oak grow out of bleached rock, in need of nothing. I want to fly
out there, to know how it feels to be a part of things this old, this
durable. Failing that, I’d like to know how this scene moves him. I tell
him a story. Did you know Butch Cassidy’s real name was Parker? My
grandpa’s grandpa knew him. They joked that they were cousins, until
old Butch stole his favorite sheepdog and grandpa went after him in a
rage. He never found him. How would you ever find anyone out here?
He shrugs. I guess you wouldn’t. He’s lost things for good, too.

Love’s Tokens

After he retired he came back at Christmas and brought
me next year’s calendar, made with his point of view.

She baked a loaf of bread and all the hours it was rising
she knew it was for us. Before the yeast was wetted
she thought of us.

But the books on loan aren’t coming back.
This is why I write my name on inside covers,
so people who don’t love me will return my books.

I think of you and me together, across a table, our
forks digging into the same piece of cake.
I’d like to know your thoughts, and you mine.

Like when you handed me that empty cup, you
thought of me while drinking from it, didn’t you?

He Still Asks

To be tucked in. I rub his back,
sand down the day’s nicks and
scratches. His shoulder blade
under the sheet is sharp like
the table’s edge under its cloth.
Bones can outpace the epidermis,
forcing rapid accommodation,
not without scars.

But trees grow evenly, notwith-
standing variable ring size;
the maple that became our dining
table never split its cambium. It grew
outwards from the outermost ring,
laying on girth in perfect proportion.

And when this boy, no less perfect
for his unevenness, grows finally away
from the table that built his frame, that
threaded his thousand-stringed harp,
it will outpace my growth rate.
It will stretch and mark my heart.