The Way It Happened
How many hours
did the sky bear down
before it felt like
a dense fist of pain
As though another mouth
stretched an O
inside a body not my own.
A body opened like a split peach,
sleek and rent,
the knees pressed wide.
And was it joy
that lurched downward,
flooding the linoleum?
I rise into the cries.
If blood were silk
and my legs crumbling pillars,
if sound were a long caress
of its own morphology and
screams could plow a room, could
all you would see is red.
Red on the inside of closed lids,
and red the unstoppable force.
Child, listen now,
the evening fills
with blood-colored clouds,
I spend hours falling for your face.
I fall for you like a ripe fruit.
Fallen from the mouth of pleasure.
If it’s possible to go back
to that first night and tease out that first moment
when a future seemed likely, Esther Phillips was covering
Home Is Where the Hatred Is at the Hollywood Bowl
with her exquisite diction, and up in the cheap seats
grown women all around me who knew that song
wasn’t about heroin addiction so much as the men sitting
next to them, leapt to their feet because they had the words
by heart, and so did I, and we all felt compelled to rise
for our anthem and sing those words out loud – the
men beside us had no idea; that was the instant
I knew it could be done – it would take time and a plan,
but I was standing up, and I wasn’t singing alone.
Asking the Pears
April. Fierce baby cabbage, spindly tomato,
pears arriving early during this gospel of death
lit like small lanterns, hand-size Neolithic goddesses,
sun-warm, ticking, headless, footless, primordial:
Where will you be when you’re gone?
Should I ask the pear cupped in my hand,
filling my palm with its womanly shape?
Pears are inconstant. Never the same.
A drop or two of rosewater, balm
of sunlight in uncertain quantity, ivory flesh –
only sometimes crisp.
Didn’t you tell me once their moment
is fragile; watch closely, take them exactly
when rolling their pale gold against the blue,
nymphs fully formed, yes, but still hard.
They refuse a single understanding.
You said I must core, peel, and slice the pears.
Then rub them with lemon juice.
It takes two knives to cut butter into almond flour
to a consistency of coarse meal. You said this.
And I want to say: what becomes of us
afterward? Slow ripples in air. What falls
from the bough rests on the earth.
Suckling pigs the size of infants,
their skin golden and glistening
with fat, hanging from hooks
in the windows of pocket
eateries on the narrow streets
of Toledo – we saw them after-
wards, those lechones – little
ones voracious for milk, guzzlers,
eager milkers, hungry mouths.
The woman I was with strongly felt
St John of the Cross betrayed himself
with rapture, the language of lover and
beloved, too much, too sexual – later
she would shave her head and become
a Buddhist nun – but that day we made
our clumsy, in-the-moment translations
on the train to one another as though
searching through those songs of longing
for what we would not understand
and everywhere the most audacious
intimacies, reading them aloud,
eyes on each other, and would she
taste the tenderness of new life, let
the grease smear her lips? She would not.
Hills the color of flayed leather,
rounding their curves, a view of Toledo,
the holy city like a silver brooch
against the breast of storm, El Greco
painted it that way. Landscape painting
forbidden since the Council of Trent. He
did it anyway, a rugged promontory
clothed in green, claiming color as
the most ungovernable element.
How could that be in La Mancha—
small spears and knives of grass as fresh
with desire as flesh and vein, flush with
dark water? Only if landscape is
encounter, not description; the eye
says what it does not see, the steep
where the deer grazes, unquestioning
sourceless light. My body as escarpment,
slope, rockfall, as thin soil tunneled by
new grass. Under a dome of storm.
The eye of the deer also eye of
the lover. What is it You want of me?