Not quite like gasping for breath --
it's more like thirst, a longing spread
through every cell and membrane. Hoarse
with silent calling. A hundred vivid images,
I wince with missing, can't help imagining
that I move close enough to slip both arms
inside, press hard againstÖ
The syllables are almost as rich as the taste,
the ingredients double the usual work of words,
gain savor and subtlety from their proximity,
fresh as herbs grown in the yard. I love to read
and imbibe: the names of fish, the garden poetry
of seasonings and vegetables. Even if the details
of each meal I ate blurred into a general
sense of gustatory luxury and grew abstract,
I could revive them in a marvelous journal,
make them more than immortal: delicious
even if only phrases passed one's lips.
A lifelist of uncommon species, savors shapely
as Platonic solids. I could still recover, could even
gain without ever eating, a worldwide ideal,
essence of avocado or of cumin, salmon
or poached pears, a purely mental richness
of heavy cream, each course of their names
blending differently in their clash and rhyme.
Smooth in midnight cashmere
on subtle soles, without reflection,
fine leather gloves to transmit
each vibration at the secret heart
of the safe as tumblers fall, heat
pressed against cold metal.
No window can exclude him,
no carefully altered address.
His diamonds are exquisitely sharp,
he knows the combination,
the password and the secret code --
a few precise touches here at the shoulder
and everything falls open. He is
the most wanted, the infamous spy.
Go ahead and rob me then, you dangerous man.
Tomorrow I'll make certain to be rich again.
The human constitution is not tuned for constant ecstasy:
so come be tedious with me, my love.
While you mince an onion, I'll empty the dishwasher
and ask you, "Where do these spoons go?"
We'll linger over our bedtime tooth-brushing,
maybe you'll turn on the late show
briefly, as I begin to doze.
Of course there are times when you'll kiss me till I'm dizzy,
I'll start to muss your hair while you're trying to pay bills,
or we'll miss each other desperately at a distance
and send explosive telegrams --
but that can't stop us sinking back into comfort
at every chance, rolling closer to get warm
as we sleep, picking up each other's tone and posture,
weaving a thousand tiny threads between us.
You lie in the back bedroom,
furthest from the door,
sweltering in fever,
dimly aware of time.
It is a presage of death,
this sense that life goes on
without you, that everyone
hastens past. The windows
don't give onto the street;
if you lean up on one elbow
and gaze out you can see only
birds, busy and comfortable
in their indifference to history.
You have become my password,
that secret name that no one else
may ever have thought to call you -- code
that no one knows. Your dates
and initials form a cipher, they open
every drive, they forge the key
to every trove of treasure
that fleeing pirates may have buried --
the only magic words I know.
We've been in this house more than a year,
and now at last we're really living:
we know where the bulbs come up
and in what colors, we're shyly getting
friendly with the garden. Each swath
of the lawnmower is tiled with thoughts
from earlier passages, mowing. We move
through hazy anniversaries, gather fallen
twigs, then snow, then petals. There are still
surprises, but we suspect we'll like them.
Sometimes as familiar as houses where I lived for years,
that can sprout unsuspected staircases, attics, whole wings
that I nonetheless recognize: their logic was already implied
in a residence I never came to regret. Sometimes waiting
for me to get back from some errand that blurs
into complexity but still must manifestly end in the best
of cheer. Sometimes Iím the one waiting, or pretending
innocence in the company of strangers, or of inattentive
acquaintances. But I never forget the primary scent,
the magic of each name. Sometimes parched longing, when
the waiting has stretched past strength or reasonÖ
But always I wish I could have kept you past waking.
Does truth pall with repetition? Or force you
modestly to demur? Let me then conceal it,
safe as an endangered animal in its cage,
let it wash back into its proper habitat. Take up
your binoculars if you wonder where it lurks.
Truth coalesces, hardens into a star,
great and mighty -- but the source of that
searing light, the burning rayed bombardment,
are the billions of hidden miniscule reactions,
the pressured first step from one to two.
And words too, love, will go to earth if they must
to keep from fading in that radiance, to grow a saving
skin of strangeness: how else could I surprise you
by rerevelation of what you know already,
what I hope you have long not doubted?
Once having uttered, how much harder
it is to re-refuge in silence: having parted
the lips, loosened the rein of control,
looked and leapt and trusted.
Whatís more, having watched the way
the shoots of pleasure, unconstrained
in sound as well as fury flourish,
ever seeking light and fleeing gravity.
But damn, theyíll hear me -- itís a job
of memory stunted in comparison,
allocation of various muscle groups
and the waning clutches
of the super-ego, a different
configuration for each moment:
contain surprise, delight, release,
and hardest of all that happy sigh
so like a moan that closes the paren-
thesis, just as one would think that
the work is over and the laurels
readied for restingÖ
Just the whisper and ghost of your edge:
how can I fix a hint of your image
to bear fresh with me through the trails
of memory? So when from many miles
of highway, so many minutes and hours
congealing into a thickening wall
of loss and strangeness, when I clear
my throat of the silence, there will still
remain a board to balance across space,
some beam to guide precarious reach.
Thus I trust into the future,
that day when youíll spring alive again
(as I too, under your hands).
I love the way you are in the world.
I see the way you care for things
you have come to cherish, your tender attention,
unfolding and refolding with precision,
reading the manual, checking the internet.
Furring each possession in a nesting history
of meaning, structure, curious anecdotes.
The way you talk about flowers,
the way you briefly give your heart to each
possibility on the menu before you choose
and order, the way you taste the wine.
And the way you stay fond of people
who once make it into your heart: students,
colleagues, old friends, former lovers, the way
you stay up late to talk, propping your eyelids,
you listen closely, remember the names
of the characters in their soap operas,
you make sure to get back in touch.
I love the way you let your interests draw you
(checking the sky for signs of wind, adjusting
the sails). The way time weakens for you
when something resurfaces, firmness
of recollection and attachment
and reaction, your loyalty to the ways
old things were good even once they are old,
your comfort with that truth.
Taking medicine to put my skin to sleep,
to stop that poison touch from spreading.
Of course I should know better by this time:
I should avoid the garden altogether.
It is a clash of disciplines: on one hand
the not-quite-siren call of the mower
and the whispering weeds, and on the other
(bilaterally symmetrical) the lurking stalk,
the single touch that is sufficient.
Time is like a box of teabags:
thirty to start, packed snugly (in neat weeks).
Taking one, then taking another
from the box with its telling Irish color
seems like so little. Note by note
in a scale, step by step to the top,
whereas we want to leap tall buildings
and save the world at once!
Only when it starts to near the end,
the two or three remaining rattle
like the dregs of the box, for a moment
Iím shocked and almost exhilarated.
Got through by plodding as I dreamt to race,
taught myself a little lesson.
Turn my face up under the shade,
its lozenges of variegated glass,
greedy for the waves and particles.
Or a glimpse of you under hot water,
course spray and rainbows springing from you
beneath the slowly liquid windows.
Greedy for that moving picture --
and not just light, but quick vocal waves
flying along the optical fibers,
words rattled out by those fingers.
But most of all, not those dry things
from physics textbooks -- what I want
is the brain-stem undersea thud,
that melting warmth, your mouth.
Oh love, I came from one cell,
I want to dwell in the immediate senses,
my eyes and their impatient visions
swept shut by that gentle crash.
Our life together is a dotted line,
thick attachment alternates
with blanks of stretching separation.
No doubt every couple has its spaces,
hands that canít hold forever,
nights on business spent apart --
but not this lengthy, I say, and I
imagine: not this hard.
Perhaps from future distance it will seem
more solid, the lines will impose
their irresistible curve on the spaces
(in wax-resist batik? the dashes
to meet you again!) --
perhaps the windows will admit
rain, air and sunshine, keeping
our meetings always fresh.
Or will it crack when something
leans hard on it, and splinter
into a scatter of brief chapters
cohered into no whole?
A layering of flavors
on my tongue, reading
back through last night:
a cherry cough-drop,
hot tea with milk,
an omelette (cheddar, tomato, mushrooms),
a trio of ice creams, of which
the peanut brittle was the liveliest.
Further than that the chain
does not extent: my happy palate
was cleansed by a pair of sorbets:
first, pear with fresh thyme leaves
to erase the seared goose;
second, blood orange
to neutralize the rare elk-flesh.
Nothing is as simple as it tastes:
the sweet, the earth, the velvet of your skin,
the sudden sense, and then (describe!)
in words we use to fix the menu of memory.
Not every second, but more than every hour
I draw the ragged breath, I warm
myself as I imagine holding you,
breathing in nearness, pressing
my cheek into your shoulder,
the charmed precipice of your chest.
Not every second, but more often
than anyone else could tell, I feel
that nascent gesture, unmet pull
of my arm to slip around you,
the empty air where you should stand.
How I have drunk in and laid by
in the treasuries of recollection
the cracking space beside you as you walk!
The migration of every sentient atom
into the side that faces you,
brushes you or pressed closer.
The cells are buzzing now,
rearing up like filings on a magnet,
and I long and pine and unfurl
towards you as you sit at work, indifferent,
so many miles distant, so many hours until!
The year has cycled round, the sun at noon
stands low, the same flat solstice light by which
I first fell Ė like a ton of bricks,
one at a time, like a ton of feathers
in a million miniscule touches, like
a million snowflakes, no two the same.
How friendship flapped into desperate longing,
and how you made me wait! Now that
I can sleep again, I still feel singed
by the first days of a new year, when we
knew of no element but fire.
I want to compact the thought of holding you,
the memory, the desire, the magic sense
of stars and poles aligning, the gyroscope
that tips and tips into you, the silent click
upon touching, the buzz of corpuscles
as each migrates to the light side
and rears its little ferrous head.
That magic (you have no idea), I want
to press into you and come away shaped
as if by a seal, my body printed
with your name backwards, invaded
and divine, I want to infuse you with
a thick gift-wrapped sense of PRESSING
against your side, buffeted by desire,
and if I could stop time there, never stir
except to crash back with the next wave.
And if I have regrets, love,
itís not the sorrows youíve borne, for
we all bear sorrows -- we all hold seas
of grief that sometimes rise in flood.
Itís not the years before we met, for
clearly knew you so many joys, and I
had countable blessings too.
Itís not even age, though I know it furrows
my beauty with every smile --
no, itís that I canít place you in my mind
and body to show you what I mean,
and that I canít move you SO,
that in the years while I was wasting time
with well-intentioned half-measures,
you were growing up past such moving,
such complete and naÔve delight.
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