I spent the afternoon with a bough of vines between
my fingers, plucking green thorns from the stem.
I am a creature of practicality. It is evening of our last day
& you took your time finding the doorway
—the archway where you first left me.
I found you at a church in Florence,
you were dusting your boots in the pew, balancing
a notebook on your wavering thigh; I stood
before the poet’s grave with a gauze kimono
wrapped lightly over my skin. Perhaps they saw
the curve of my nose, the slight hesitation
as I ducked inside the church. I missed
the horned Moses in Rome, but stood stiff-kneed
by the Lady Venus. I found a bench beneath
the swollen sun and watched the holy trickle out.
I sipped tea with my legs crossed, breathed hard
the heat of a struggling city. I watched a man
juggle coins in his fist, eyes pleading for more silver.
Near the Duomo, a gaggle of tourists studied
the golden doors: Isaac fearful at the hands of his father.
You sat three stools over while I slouched low
in my sweater and sought a cage
for my sin—a myth is a myth is a myth.
You: I saw you through the windowpane.
You: I should have known you grew
towards the light, you flowering bud.
But the city where we met is paved with the poet’s face
—crisp outlines of the man who warned me.
Did you not swear by my joints? My lips? You met
eyes with another, stiff-tongued and steel.
You were thirsty, and she stood near—
here, lad (a wink) a sip to whet your palate.
You fought in sunlight & dusk, shaking your fist
at the yellow sky. You slept alone on a hard mattress
a pillow cradling your cheek. Later, I found you
motionless in a field, your body cold like death.
Love, a cry from a mangled human caught
beneath a tree. Love, a capsule between
the hands, a moment to find and forget.
You bow your head: I forgot you momentarily.
Me: I found you limping through the forest.
You: Suppose I hadn’t fled. Dead
the tree where we read, your fingers
laced with floral, dead the fence where we lay,
the cobblestone we danced. Dead the blood
we used to paint shapes with crimson force.
I stumbled lop-sided to the fountain edge
& wet my face with cool silver. Why darkness
that brings out the demons?
This was the first city I missed, the only land
to betray me. Dante, a mirage, dips his toes in water,
Lust, he whispers, is only the beginning.
Child, he shakes, retreat. But I am not Athena
of thought, Medusa of stone.
I am not a woman you remember. I take
a moment watching flimsy dandelions bloom
between your toes. It was she who let me pass
through the gates, a boat beneath my body.
Beatrice, I ask, are you yourself a soul?
This is a city of slush & dirty water, a wasteland
where you wither. And I, too, howl: Mother,
Mother, my soul’s on fire. I call to you,
hoarders and wasters, bully drums of another world.
Perhaps you bent gazing into a river—you loved
the fluid image, the parted lips & eyes of murky blue.
Choke back and breathe the mist of contradiction
—why ravage? why gather? The water won’t pity you
the gold in your pockets will further you
unto death. Adeline, tell us how the water flows.
So I, for a long time, slept in the day, a bobbing
head in the afternoon. But everything relates
to everything else: the thunder comes
so rain falls sideways. A sad lizard shimmies
up the table leg; he puffs his throat in fear.
I spent hours memorizing the highways & the alleys;
I painted the room purple and laid down
under the ceiling fan. I envisioned you pressing
ivory keys while I sat humming in the living room.
How far does sound travel? At what speed?
Have you a heart that devises, an estuary for your
body’s work? Beneath the muddy shore, a man gasps
for air, and you, a warrior, twang onwards.
A colored quilt stiches what you could not say:
this was a terrible meal. But all around us,
things meld: A desk chair sat lonesome in a field,
silver into green. Spiders with round bodies
found a home on my foot, my shoulder. I brushed
them off but their stubborn feet clung to cloth.
But I dreamt you once in a wooden house overlooking
plush hills & a field of sunflowers. Rows of books lined
the walls: Baldwin, Derrida, Nabokov. You stood
in the doorway in knit socks with a teacup
between your palms. You watched as I sipped tea
from a ceramic mug & wheezed. You put your hand
to my neck, transferring me breath through your fingertips.
I said, with slight air, you brought another girl here?
You bowed your head & whispered,
I never loved anyone else.
So I took your head in my lap, parted your hair
in curls. But you, grieving, wanted more.
While your brother bathed in the river, splashing
dots upon his skin; you were on the sand wishing
a wave into his face, his sweet small body washed
away. You were jealous of the lamb’s skull jeweled
with beads; jealous of the desert mirage,
the palm tree, thick thighs you were born without.
I watched you take the sheep through the pasture,
nodding as the mammals grazed. You woke
with wire over your eyes, a grid of iron to weep
through. I thought your face beautiful in silver.
But was this the place you raised high on rafters,
reaching your wrists into the molten sky?
It was the evening of the last day when I found you
first in a hallway, white cotton grazing pallid skin.
Next, in a bedroom, a body cast upon the sheet.