Poem-a-Day curated by Tracy K. Smith, April 2019

The Body Remembers

I stood on one foot for three minutes & didn’t tilt
the scales. Do you remember how quickly
 
we scrambled up an oak leaning out over the creek,
how easy to trust the water to break
 
our glorious leaps? The body remembers
every wish one lives for or doesn’t, or even horror.
 
Our dance was a rally in sunny leaves, then quick
as anything, Johnny Dickson was up opening
 
his arms wide in the tallest oak, waving
to the sky, & in the flick of an eye
 
he was a buffalo fish gigged, pleading
for help, voiceless. Bigger & stronger,
 
he knew every turn in the creek past his back door,
but now he was cooing like a brown dove
 
in a trap of twigs. A water-honed spear
of kindling jutted up, as if it were the point
 
of our folly & humbug on a Sunday afternoon, right?
Five of us carried him home through the thicket,
 
our feet cutting a new path, running in sleep
years later. We were young as condom-balloons
 
flowering crabapple trees in double bloom
& had a world of baleful hope & breath.
 
Does Johnny run fingers over the thick welt
on his belly, days we were still invincible?
 
Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones
in my body, humming a half-forgotten
 
ballad on a park bench a long ways from home.
The body remembers the berry bushes
 
heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods,
but I doubt it knows words live longer
 
than clay & spit of flesh, as rock-bottom love.
Is it easier to remember pleasure
 
or does hurt ease truest hunger?
That summer, rocking back & forth, uprooting
 
what’s to come, the shadow of the tree
weighed as much as a man.