Like the door opening in a wall to reveal a nonexistent room Beyond, its taste astonishes belief. As if the leaf of light green, Drawn into arcs, wind tousled, subtler than parsley in its tang, had already Blent tomato with lime and onion in the mouth - until I am like the islanders Who had never tasted salt, although now that the old rock was riven And the sweet saliva leaping forth, how could one contrive To live in the old isolation, which had no savory?
Here, in the early life of coriander, is a clue to what we want To last forever - the initial jet of moisture and delayed Surprise at the wetness of the herb; or is it the throbbing of the hand that feeds? - of the neck one holds to Like a life buoy, while the body slides helplessly away On a cushion of flagrant perspiration underneath His hands? Now I think about his hands, and move them.
Muir saw a young farmer at a dance, paralyzed in sweat At some girl's beauty, and thought him "basting in the fires of love." It's all a kind of cookery, this business of attraction. Random As pollen, yet acute as the archaic bond Of sodium to chloride, mint with lamb, lemon Sliding underneath the oil. All of these must have been surprising Once: hair rising, as one floundered for the stair that wasn't there
And taste crept along sharp attributes back to its source. In cilantro's case, before the plant shoots into nuggety corns That must be ground like pepper (and utterly unlike In taste the seed is furmity sweet, yeast yoked), Rainy cilantro is sheer Zitronen bluehn and wet As moon's autumnal gleam, drenched in tartness to a kind of squeak Between the teeth . . . I want to rake your tongue
Between my teeth. It makes me faint to say this. Then I see How bland it looks, written out. Is everything to do with bodies Desultory when we say - the moment that we realize we need to say Everything? Does the erotic person so brimming out with qualities, Fine voice, and fashion of regarding, inclining smile of appetite, vanish Like a dream whose fearfulness we can't retrieve, its hot acceleration As we start to die (which we can't put in words) never alarming Anyone once we have set it down? In place of this protracted peril,
And muddling the line between mere formula and the true, headlong, Intimate approach, a sort of poetry-manual records The confidences, now discursive, even somewhat dry, in which The very phrases that should rend and tremble at the image Of the other have taken up their programmatic places And voice and mouth, long, burgeoning root and moistened hollow, Flatten and fade like a joke whose point is old.
Perhaps it is best to imagine love like paper on which nothing has been written, Fresh apprehensions about to throng in from the blue that parse the act into Inaugurations: First blaze of beholding when we knew it was beginning to be about to be A kiss between us, as if the rhythm of knowing could rock backward into Not-yet And Already like a tiny wavelet lapping, lapping at our hearing as our hearts Did what hearts do in corny music, thundering and whispering in a background Darker than childhood, palpably quiescent, beneath the esplanade;
That first long sequence when the bodies nodded together, a little like poplars; First arrhythmia of lips and delirious hands; first article of clothing Looser, nonexistent; first moment of dissociation in the inner ear; first burst Of laughter rolling away like an apple under the dome of late stars; first attempt To drive in this condition (uneventful); first staircase ascended; Disrobing for the first time in a phosphorescent haze; lying prone And supine in rustling alternation; first and first and first . . . all innocent,
All odd; concerted foundering as our bodies cringe and open and resound, Seemingly, to some external force, like molluscs in the flaming current, Water an electric medium, or the air we breathe lethal and narcotic As we stream past each other into an atmosphere of indefinable Addiction, each caress a kind of torment as if anticipation were a Brand in the flesh, setting us at some lower and unsatisfying rank Among the celestial orders. No. Not exactly. But extremes of striving, yes,
While the body, a vehicle restless and unrecognizable That irritates one to the point of tears, threshes with Each failure in reaction, each tangent off the firestorm of yearning Too polymorphous for anything but mindreading to keep up with. Even that most chaste of fabulists, old Borges, had a dream in which All his body's zones and entrances howled for penetration At the same time, unable to tell the difference between the cravings
That seem so like one craving (only none were satisfied). Where was true love in this? Ferrying its ache, with a sort of puzzled care, Down an arcade of cloth-like foliage daubed with mist that whitens to a wedge At the end of the street; below it, the inland ocean leans along the shore That links us, as if to impress something upon the consciousness. Earlier this summer, during the cool, blonde weeks of sunlight While my little girl swerved in the friendly water, I would relish
The small flecks of white sail far out, which were disappearing toward you Further north, till now that seems included in the poignant look of the shoreline. Like the slip of those far craft above the hidden quickening of water, A vision in imagination - subtler than the brush of surfaces - Suspends a sort of numinous atmosphere around each object Of the gaze: protecting the lover's hand above the apple of the breast, for her part Touching, with a sweetened inclination of the eye, the curve of his
Attraction - and willing these to happen with the same aversive delicacy Low water uses when it ebbs against a warm expanse of sand . . . Why do I keep on wishing that the door would open into the time before Anything had formed beyond real fondness about to sink, in idle, itemizing tenderness, Into the opening where dimension ripens: Falling asleep the first time, then awaking in surrender Much like sleep (I remember looking at our fingers twining, wondering whose they were) - Then a shy return to bantering under the strange horizon, like a canopy, of undistinguished hours
Marked on a calendar no one has seen before - as if in this epochal glare such tests Of our endurance as come with counting the days and learning the months could transfigure Even pleasantry, until emotion so long postponed in its conception, still featureless And dreamy, and with the half-real sense of a resisted threshold, were reassuring Us that what had been begun and was recurring had a fitness and inevitability (By virtue of its nameless, overwhelming drift) to match against the all-unnerving dreads - Incapacity, exhaustion, solitude - all the comely risks of middle age.
Strangers still, I watch us climb back down into the old arena, Clambering against the body to achieve some sort of definition, As if to look through the other's pleasure into one's own, only to find (As it's been said) each was the box only the beloved had a key to open. This Will be true even when we know the charm that moves the key, when we can bring each other With our eyes like Arthurian lovers, or by uttering a code like the tetragrammaton Or old embroidery. Even when the act is somehow perfected,
Mustn't there still be all those ordinary things left over, traits Nobody bothered about in life till someone realized they were "The flaws that gave it feeling" - more typical of us than the sweep Of wildness that rises and pours through us, as if we weren't there? And yet it tears through me as if I were not there except as a condition That sets the teeth on edge - as in those dishes inexact In flavoring, salt confusing lemon, or the haywire flare of the myriad,
Fleshy tropical peppers smoking the mild greens and little dash of saffron (Then giving out entirely, save for a coating of fire that hurts the throat); Burning, aimlessly hungry . . . odd that love needs also a balm, A rigor - no, a pattern of uncertainty, resembling manners Or the inspiration of the agile cook who shifts the recipe - To quell the eddy of destruction at the other side of longing: And was that its hidden way to code the magical suspicion that
The same key must be found to open the small perfections, too - With something of the painter's art, to blend the repose of the cat asleep on my sandals Into a harmony of movement with the familiar turbulence I still feel toward you even In repose (so like dissatisfaction with myself it ought not to be called longing), Until the desire that freaks about me, inside and out, at all times of day, Reined itself into an even gait of perfect cadence, grandiose and smooth, Coiling like a gallop under me and, down the distance of its own continuation, Gathering to the brush stroke that vanishes into a still small center.
Here it may be few wishes matter, beyond the one - that I might sleep the whole of each of these Remaining nights in the small field bounded by your body and, beached against Your heartbeat, heal from the mild weariness of our meandering walks To waken with my mouth against your shoulderblade, my hand dreaming In yours, tasting the salt on your skin as I wonder, drowsing down again Into a mist of my own breathing in your long back's hollow, just how long it may be before Our bodies articulate, for one day more, something like wakefulness.
Mary Kinzie is the author of two recent books of criticism, The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose, published by the University of Chicago Press; and The Judge is Fury, published by The University of Michigan Press. Knopf is publishing her fifth volume of poetry, Ghost Ship, in April. She teaches at Northwestern University.