Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten
And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?
Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?
And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?
What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?
What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.
Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it.
And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.
Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.
The sky tonight, so without aliens. The woods, very lacking
in witches. But the people, as usual, replete
with people. & so you, with your headset, sit
in the home office across the hall, stuck in a hell
of strangers crying, computers dying, the new
father’s dropped-in-toilet baby
photos, the old Canadian, her grandson Gregory,
all-grown-up-now Greg, who gave her this phone
but won’t call her. You call her
wonderful. You encourage her to tell you what’s wrong
with her device. You with your good-at-your-job
good-looking-ness, I bet even over the phone
it’s visible. I bet all the Canadian grandmas
want you, but hey, you’re with me. Hey, take off
that headset. Steal away from your post. Cross
the hall, you sings-the-chorus-too-soon, you
played-tennis-in-college-build, you Jeffrey, you
Jeff-ship full of stars, cauldron full of you,
come teach me a little bit
of nothing, in the dark
Copyright © 2017 Chen Chen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.