On the surface of the lips,
skin that numbs and tingles
at once. Its electric skein.
Some faceted cabinet inside?
Deep with locks and layers,
concealing passwords and
Something deeper than clothes
(what loveliness overweaves
my burgeoning complicated secret!),
opal opaquer than explanation.
My love said, if I knew someone
who loved to work with wood,
perhaps he would make a box
that could hold so many jewels.
How many cubes of ice may I apply
to chill each ligament, trace through the line,
that lovely surface tense with condensation.
Add shiver to the liquid chill inside.
Amber rubbed with neither wool nor silk --
perhaps just finest linen, neutral
to the fingertips -- skin skimmed
with touch that won't adhere:
what's your charge now, on what side
may I linger to approach
a perfect distance, balance
the laden pole of languidness
and temperate restraint?
I speak of beauty sharpened to a point:
Da Vincian figures, angels in the sphere.
It's Aphrodite's number, lingering
code of the body -- stretch from palm to heel.
I am so taken with the way you move,
no frozen image can approximate --
only wind in branches, only slow
and gracious rays through interrupting clouds…
A long elastic curve, but interspersed
with a moment's hesitation -- so.
Each line tends to the next one. Spread
your fingers wide so I can hand you this
sweet ripened fruit, and if you missed
its petals several weeks ago, we may
find the same mystery sliced from the side --
stars and roses, love; apples and pears.
You know how words gather: I could say,
like starlings, sensing a meal. The little birds
are a bit of a lit cliché, but their hunger
and the very concrete crumbs of your sweet
pastry lure them into corporeality.
Here I am wont to trap them,
use each as bait for more, arrange
and rearrange my prey (juggling their tiny
feathered squawks, avoiding beaks),
until they’re dizzy and can’t escape, until
they’re tamed on lines as trim as notes
of vocal music. All frozen moments
ready to spring back to wing in the re-
constituting liquid of a curious voice.
Are all things really signs?
and yesterday, and all this week:
as soon as they start to appear
they scatter, spooked by a gesture
of your arm, sensing the heat
as you drew nearer, or suspicious
at some microscopic movement
of your finger, of your lips.
I never know: it may erupt
in mere awareness of a movement,
step and step and step -- never mind
all its well-known hiding places,
its usual planes, tectonic plates. It bursts
out everywhere and I'm never prepared, always
transported. Ecstasy is embarrassing,
a messy state, it makes too much noise.
Angels are made of stronger stuff,
n'est-ce pas? They’re firmer vessels
(more trustworthy vassals).
That shadow under the eyes,
here and here a line from smiling,
there the traces of irresistible grimace.
The twinkle when I catch myself
in unexpected reflection, outside
the safely artificial smile one makes
at the call of Cheese.
Who would have thought my skin
would bruise and scuff so easily? --
Thinking of how soft I used to be,
the tides that still reside, recalled
as I decipher the purpling thumbprint.
From without, the unwonted length
assembles in an impression of willow
clearly angelic and androgynous,
growing up as a musician, if ever
incarnated -- it's that imagined harpist.
That side is simple, though devastating.
Within, or if the fortress opens,
rests a surfeit of information
already passing any age or ego:
too many lines ever to align
or read in their interrelationship,
a tangle, a confusing map to lure
travelers into the ancient city.
I keep wandering off in the details.
These routes never lead home,
traces fold and ought to reemerge
but only coil the path in tighter.
I wander into a delightful wilderness,
I am too captivated to pause,
as is my habit, and tell you what it means.
Or tell myself, to and for. And who
would think the index could be a stylus,
a secret reservoir of midnight ink
revealed accidentally upon the skin.
The lines are definite as stone,
but their transparency demonstrates
a circulation: this way the story flows.
And if you read the world with sufficient
patience, it too has pulse, a line of life,
and it does not lack the loveliness
that you have here so terribly condensed.
Four days since I was present:
the stream nudges back underground,
sand remerges with the land
surrounding. You would never know
how deeply I was incised.
And how many beds it's found:
the surface is still subtle,
straightening back to grass,
but how many damp caverns, how
many secret channels under skin.
Return to SF's Poetry Page.
Return to SF's Home Page.