it was my knee that you kissed first – not
reaching for anything so low or Biblical
as the foot; nor starting with anything so high
and obvious as the mouth. What a thing to do,
To kiss a knee. The same knee that pops when
I take stairs too many at a time – which can
barely extend ninety-degrees from my body in a
strained developé. I know myself. I know
how to parcel this body and rank the zones.
My eyes are nice, my legs, okay, nose, fine,
mouth, full enough. My chest is flat, my stomach
round, my thighs are thick and my ass – I’m not
ambitious so I go on what I hear. I buy my clothes
and dress accordingly. But my knee? My knee
is nothing more than functional.
I curled my hair, wore lotion that contained real silk.
I shaved my legs and twined Egyptian Sandals
round my calves. I painted my toes silver-gray.
And you kissed my knee. Not on the way anywhere –
Not working your way North. Just because.
And to feel your mouth, your head below my lap,
hair brown and curly, smelling of shampoo and sweat.
I love that kiss and you. Because I can count it on one hand.
Because it’s the song I listened for, but never sung.
Because it’s something more than the words I have for it –
Like the child that names the moon, the stars.
The boy is twenty-five and Greek, the way you imagined
Greeks in childhood – as Gods flecked golden and frozen
in time. On his face are the first trace etchings of ruin,
the sun’s slow claim, not lines of abandonment, care,
or sudden loss. Inside, the longing he stirs is Pagan,
archetypal, and you know why Zeus carved past love
into wood. Beauty brings the desire to mutilate: Zeus’
loves become a forest, cattle, indistinguishable animals
Perhaps this Greek, this boy, is best
imagined as Cavafy imagined boys of Greece –
as a moment, not a person. This first moment he is seen,
this first perfect smile, is the furthest he will ever be from death.
These muscles, silken cords beneath the skin, will never be seen
this way again, slack and fluid then taut beneath black cotton.
He will never have this same woman, face obscured,
pull his body away from yours. And when he returns,
when his salty fingers drift across your face, familiar
and unrepeatable as an ocean’s wave, you might taste
in them Aurora’s tears – the dew that reminds each new
day what past days’ lost.
Would you love this boy, if you returned to find
something other than the empty room, the absence of the night
before? Would you love the painter or the businessman the way
you love the moment? From Memnon’s ashes: a flock of birds,
an annual reminder that this man had been, that Aurora, least
of the goddesses, had seen him. And no one would ever see
Memnon as they saw those birds – the feathered cloud ascending
and falling in murderous testament to the past, to time. Would
you be as beautiful as the loss of you, as the finite splendor
of your arms, that night?
Never compare a woman to someone plain.
Err on the side of Ava Gardner. La Liz,
white-slipped on a Hot Tin Roof. If it’s
a lie, there’s not a woman who’ll complain:
essence drives metaphor. Stations where trains
leave and depart, belching steam-hiss whistles
stand for sex. (Marilyn = any blonde) is
simple math. Even Rita longed to wake
up Gilda. God hasn’t made the writer
who, when asked, Are you like Sharon Stone
in Basic Instinct? Thinks: I write real books
without but, thanks! In Brief Encounter
trains spew filth and lovers sleep alone.
Celia Johnson, one reviewer wrote, “looks
quite ordinary until it is time
for her to look like what she feels.” She meets
her thin-lipped doctor on dour London streets.
They share crumpets, dreams. Beauty rarely rhymes
itself with love. Not lust, but a fleck of grime
in the eye first draws them close. The conceit –
they’re past their peak: tres bourgeois, un-elite,
Yet when he says, “I’ll remember ‘til I die,”
one can’t but think that Marilyn was rumored
to kiss like Hitler, that Liz trolls Betty
Ford for dates, and for all her Amado
Mio, Rita Hayworth didn’t die adored.
And who’s to say that Johnson isn’t lovely?—
wide-eyed, open, lit by love which leaves her so.
Oprah-at-a-Size-Fourteen, plucked and Pucci-clad purveyor
of the miraculous. Everyone has a purpose, even the CIA
higher-up, master-of-disguise now converted to prosthetic
guru. I used to put people into hiding, he explains. Now,
I bring them out. No glycerin in that blue-eyed shimmer.
Film stock shows him cradle a sixty-year old face
with a hollowed-out eye: cancer. He measures and paints
the cornea, retina, molds a cast of the socket. A miracle,
Oprah exclaims! And if you can’t believe this, just wait
until we get back.
This woman: at six
her scalp and ear were gnawed through in a farming accident.
But my sisters, she explains. My beautiful sisters.
They were just so beautiful. A lifetime of wigs coifed
just below the ear; hair always gracing her left cheek.
He’s measured the right ear and the lack, made an exact
twin of the good with hair-thin veins tracing the silicon
cartilage. Pierced it twice for verisimilitude.
And the best wig-makers in Chicago have crafted
a pixie-do for the occasion! And BlueNile.com has donated
diamond-set-in-platinum earrings! St. Oprah, patron
of goodness and capital, Missionary of Michigan Ave, our
St. Catherine in Cashmere. It is, she declares, a miracle.
The wig dyed more tastefully than the locks
of the beautiful sisters weeping in the audience.
I never use “we” or “love” casually, as in
“we are so in love.” Bad luck. An on-line
quiz recently deemed me “very attractive”—
to 7% of the male population. I never date
Scorpios. Statistically, Scorpios make up
approximately 1/12th of men, reducing
the über-dateable population to 5%, not counting
smells (standard deviation of +/- .5%).
You should be quiet but entertaining; bad
but reliable. I expect to be mildly appalled
at myself for dating you, but will expect you
to call on time. I may touch
you when you least expect it as I have no impulse
control and a fine-tuned ability to ignore
consequence. My head is cracked in three places:
there’s a hidden spot on my scalp where hair
never grows. You may have hair anywhere,
(preferably not thick across the shoulders). Men
should not feel like baby’s bottoms. I would like
to be taken care of, but find it hard
to accept care from others. Unrocked babies
rock themselves to sleep. Last year I did three perfect
triple pirouettes (Barishnikov could do eleven
in street shoes.) I do not so much inspire music
or poetry, as the occasional near broken-finger
and deliberate insult. I can be unforgiving
and cold. Please do not insult me or attempt
battery. I will rock you, if the need arises.
Most children crawl like clumsy turtles, heads bobbing
like purposeful footstools. I crawled like a criminal,
one arm hooked in front, dragging the body
forward, one hand behind, pushing me along.
I have never learned to hold a pencil correctly.
I type 85 words per minute. You may be right-
brained, but I prefer left. I run as hot as I run
cold. If you come to me a stranger,
I will take you in.
is an associate professor of English at the University of West Georgia. She is the co-author, with Dana Johnson, of the novels Flyover States and Eye to Eye and is currently at work on a young adult novel. Her poetry is featured in
Flyover States and has also appeared in Quarterly West. She is the winner of the Lawrence Foundation award for fiction from Prairie Schooner and has published fiction in many literary magazines.