The dead are for morticians & butchers to touch. Only a gloved hand. Even my son will leave a grounded wren or bat alone like a hot stove. When he spots a monarch in the driveway he stares. It’s dead, I say, you can touch it. The opposite rule: butterflies are too fragile to hold alive, just the brush of skin could rip a wing. He skims the orange & black whorls with only two fingers, the way he learned to feel the backs of starfish & horseshoe crabs at the zoo, the way he thinks we touch all strangers. I was sad to be born, he tells me, because it means I will die. I once loved someone I never touched. We played records & drank coffee from chipped bowls, but didn’t speak of the days pierced by radiation. A friend said: Let her pretend. She needs one person who doesn’t know. If I held her, I would have left bruises, if I undressed her, I would have seen scars, so we never touched & she never had to say she was dying. We should hold each other more while we are still alive, even if it hurts. People really die of loneliness, skin hunger the doctors call it. In a study on love, baby monkeys were given a choice between a wire mother with milk & a wool mother with none. Like them, I would choose to starve & hold the soft body.
In a time of faint beasts, no room
is left in the boats. With thin hands,
we huddle sheep and dip a hundred
reeds in mud. The nets wheel away
so often now, sinking through days
poured furious over threshing feet.
As though dared in a foreign tongue
to knot our sleeves, we swim through
broken oars, shout off slender days.
Snakes may cling to trees, and men
tear at bread, but the sky stays hinged.
Only heaven is full of furniture.
We harness ourselves over and over,
wherever hope is a yellow shore.