Haven’t they moved like rivers—
like Glory, like light—
over the seven days of your body?
And wasn’t that good?
Them at your hips—
isn’t this what God felt when he pressed together
the first Beloved: Everything.
Fever. Vapor. Atman. Pulsus. Finally,
a sin worth hurting for. Finally, a sweet, a
You are mine.
It is hard not to have faith in this:
from the blue-brown clay of night
these two potters crushed and smoothed you
into being—grind, then curve—built your form up—
atlas of bone, fields of muscle,
one breast a fig tree, the other a nightingale,
both Morning and Evening.
O, the beautiful making they do—
of trigger and carve, suffering and stars—
Aren’t they, too, the dark carpenters
of your small church? Have they not burned
on the altar of your belly, eaten the bread
of your thighs, broke you to wine, to ichor,
to nectareous feast?
Haven’t they riveted your wrists, haven’t they
had you at your knees?
And when these hands touched your throat,
showed you how to take the apple and the rib,
how to slip a thumb into your mouth and taste it all,
didn’t you sing out their ninety-nine names—
Zahir, Aleph, Hands-time-seven,
Sphinx, Leonids, locomotura,
Rubidium, August, and September—
And when you cried out, O, Prometheans,
didn’t they bring fire?
These hands, if not gods, then why
when you have come to me, and I have returned you
to that from which you came—bright mud, mineral-salt—
why then do you whisper O, my Hecatonchire. My Centimani.
My hundred-handed one?
Up until this sore minute, you could turn the key, pivot away.
But mine is the only medicine now
wherever you go or follow.
The past is so far away, but it flickers,
then cleaves the night. The bones
of the past splinter between our teeth.
This is our life, love. Why did I think
it would be anything less than too much
of everything? I know you remember that cheap motel
on the coast where we drank red wine,
the sea flashing its gold scales as sun
soaked our skin. You said, This must be
what people mean when they say
I could die now. Now
we’re so much closer
to death than we were then. Who isn’t crushed,
stubbed out beneath a clumsy heel?
Who hasn’t stood at the open window,
sleepless, for the solace of the damp air?
I had to get old to carry both buckets
yoked on my shoulders. Sweet
and bitter waters I drink from.
Let me know you, ox you.
I want your scent in my hair.
I want your jokes.
Hang your kisses on all my branches, please.
Sink your fingers into the darkness of my fur.
Copyright © 2020 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 13, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.