A lover’s sleeping body is a fallow field
leading to forest understory, saplings
and shrubberies too plentiful to count,
and to caves of salt, a mine that is yours
—that I should like to visit, dispossess.
A lover’s unguarded breath as a series of
undulations, waves with slight variation,
a gull dipping south as the water crests
and small silver fish fall forward, bright
coins in a fountain, by the flashing beak.
I trace your long exhale, flattening against
the palm of beach. Nightly, I track you
into the sea of sleep, what would cradle us
among sponge and anemone, stone made
sand then stone again, fixity made to pour—
My lover, my strange familiar, my heimliche,
my wayworn desire. Some nights, we lay
placid with day’s exhaustion. Others, we
swim urged by sea’s hunt for inlet, island,
harbor. I study your eyes, tides’ temptations.
I have charted the distant orb that governs
the temperament of ocean, the rowdiness
of woodland mammals. I study the event
that is the wind. Mornings, we track prints
in softened earth, collect the salted wood.
We met off the highway of straight-forward intention, having traveled
the long way around. Among remnants and revenants of pine shilling
New England, we found the old kettle pond and hut of the celebrated
hermit whose retreat began in a refusal to flog schoolchildren; a brother’s
sudden death from lock-jaw; tedious industry in the family pencil factory.
All that whittling. Something wanted
beside violence and manufacturing.
Something instead of the bread of grief.
Whatever brought us to Yankee woods (its echo of musket shot in the
pocked hickory, birch, sycamore), might shelter us or send us off again.
Some say Thoreau’s solitude was indifference to women. Others note
his hermitage was peopled with friends. Shyly, we size each other up
in the blinding vernal sun Swedes blame for the rash of spring suicides.
Hail of brightness that breaks through
roofs and root cellars, thawing what we
froze under, what slept with opened eye.
Death by Water: Margaret Fuller
When lungs release their last pocket
of air, the body, in dumb reflex,
opens the valve of the mouth, letting
water flood its brachial trees,
dependent on land for sun and oxygen.
Feral, the absolute wish to breathe,
and the animal distress that is a body,
drowning. When flailing limbs
ebb to a stop, when a chest-horse ceases
in its demand, its hooves kicking
at the stall door to be let out, leased to air
beneath a starred or sun-pocked sky,
a broad horizon wide as the ocean, wide
as the gaze in a god’s everywhere face.
She refused the captain’s offer to trawl
her from the wrecked ship, caught
on shoals in view of Fire Island. Refused
to leave Giovanni and their two
year old, Nino, huddled in the splintered
forecastle. Had one rescued sailor
or shoreline pirate dared the surf in a skiff
with oars, had one man been moved
beyond fear. Or had women been allowed
to learn to swim the waters of trade,
Puritan capital, and refined reflection:
cold Atlantic that Yankees praise
with brackish pride. Had a grown woman
any say in the laws of this land.
Meeting Wordsworth, Mazzini, George
Sand, she could forget men whose
passional friendship bloomed into nothing
more; her loneness at thirty-seven,
the failure of Black suffrage, Polk’s needless
war. Europe a theater of possibility—
and a lithe Roman who guided her home.
Since virtue can’t live but in a vital
body, because of his beauty and storied eyes,
she took him as her ardent lover while
revolution razed the city. If war could not
part them, what then of water?
A rising surf bore down upon the wreck,
death met in a liturgy of waves.
Back home, the smell of your skin resined
on mine, sweet and musky as geosmin, ozone, petrichor—
faint incense of rain, and three magi of its arrival:
scents we have evolved to track,
pulling down the tent, rounding up saddles and fire, hunting
with animal need.
For want of you, I disassemble what I have called home, fleeing
a season of bewilderment
and having seen, by jagged light,
my nakedness, our plight, slow devastation of drought,
plant life refusing germination, hiding juice in sullen roots,
holding memories of rain in archives of seed.
I had stopped counting winters. Stopped gauging thirst or hunger.
Ceased to feel skin’s thinned paper; anxious limbs; thirst
its own cavity, a deep well of unslaken—
You are not a mirage in an old Western, an isle of green
in desiccated desert. You are not the Christological cactus.
You do not ride a horse or hobby-horse, parading manliness.
But long and cool, like gin on ice, this permission to need,
to covet the salve of another’s skin, to hanker
after wild scent as it’s released
from the resin of rock—
You offered me your mouth,
and I could barely stop for air.