Touched by Dusk, We Know Better Ourselves

You map my cheeks in gelatinous dark, your torso  
floating, a forgotten moon, and a violin

crosses the sheets while you kiss me your mouth 
of castanets. I believed once my uncles lived

in trees, from the encyclopedia I’d carried
to my father, The Philippines, the Ilongot hunting

from a branch, my father’s chin in shadows. I try 
to tell you about distance, though my body

unstitches, fruit of your shoulder lit by the patio 
lamp, grass of you sticky with dew, and all

our unlit places folding, one
into another. By dead night: my face in the pillow,

your knuckles in my hair, my father whipping my 
back. How to lift pain from desire, the word

safety from safe, me, and the wind 
chatters down gutters, rumoring

rain. I graze your stubble, lose my edges mouthing your 
name. To love what we can no longer

distinguish, we paddle the other’s darkness, whisper 
the bed, cry the dying violet hour; you twist

your hands of hard birches, and we peel into 
our shadows, the losing of our names.

Sea Change

Morning, and light seams
through Juárez, its homes like pearls, El Paso

rippling in the dark. Today I understand 
the fact of my separate body, how it tides

to its own center, my skin crumbling from thirst 
and touch. The sun hangs

like a bulb in corridor: one city opening 
to another. When did my heart

become a boat, this desert the moving
chart of my palm? And when did pain invert

the sky to glaucous sea, each home on each hill 
rocking? I would give my lips

to a soldier if only he would take them 
as sextant, our mouths an arc, my tongue

the telescoping sight between. Below 
such light, the measure of boys

swimming cobbles, their stomachs 
dripping wild stamen. See

how they are clutching to their guns
like lovers, as if the metal could bear them.

Morning, and still in umbra, my dog
and I walk, her tongue a swinging rudder.

Thai Massage

In the dark room he asks me 
to change where we have to
bow below the ceiling, coughing
while he draws the sheet hung
to save my modesty, though
I have none to save. I peel off
my wet dress for pants thin
as the pillowcases I slept on
as a girl in Georgia, the purple
tie-dye ballooning my pelvis,
and I knot the remaining cloth
at my navel, fold the sheathing
I arrived inside, seams filled
with smoke, city, into a sharp
black square at the corner
of the single mattress. I can see
his body moving quickly, quietly
lighting candles behind the cot
-ton: divided, we both know not
to speak. This is the last trip
I’ll take with the one I still call
my husband, this man and this
room now a bought hour 
of silence from the silence of
my body walking behind another
in Bangkok, and I pleat myself
into the center of the bed, my
calves under my thighs, palms
sweating the lap, the way Asian
women know to wait. He senses
my pinned posture and pulls
the twin sheet back, and for
the first time I see him beyond
instruction, or introduction, how
the small hoods of his eyes drip
into his smooth high cheeks,
his tendonous neck and clavicles
rooting to a person more furtive 
than my own. He asks me where
I hurt, everywhere. But more
at my neck and lower back,
because I won’t ask this stranger 
to cup the cone of my caged 
heart. The springs depress
where he has sunk in to hold 
me, his chest at the hump
of my spine, my hands in 
his, our fingers entrenched.
He says of our shared, colored
skin same, same, and I say sawat
dee ka because I do not know
how to use the language past
gratitude—my accent broken,
tiger balm spiriting his pores,
and his breath at my neck, the two
candles hunkering blue light
in the corner, and somewhere
below, banned from this dark
room and in the laboring street
is the one who’s forgotten
to touch me, a man framing
in telephoto the smoky arms
of women frying chicken over gel
gas, and the foreheads of girls
hacking durian, their temples
shining, bent to the million
spines at each green shell, their
steel knives unstringing such
soft yellow fruit. Still to come
is a grief so large it will shape into
an estranged and swollen face
cursing me at the next party, our
future folding into our past, wine
staining our hands, our lips.
The sun drops, conspires
to further the darkness of this
blued room, where candles are 
shivering in secret. The fan 
whirs. The man embracing me 
squeezes our four hands, and I 
understand the gesture to trust 
him. He swings me, cracks my back.
 

Leaving the University Gym

not understanding how we celebrate
Our bodies. Every day we separate.
      — Marilyn Hacker

September, and the great stillness 
of moonless night and cooling air, the city 
in blue pockets in the hills, and just 
under your hands, the current
of what’s forgotten. All week long, while 
you were running, or reading, your forefinger
blurring the type, one season was slipping 
into another, as lovers weave themselves 
across a bed, odor of yeast 
from the beer bread lifting through 
the oven, the dog’s pad cracked, and in
class, you were watching one student 
blink at another. There’s a time 
to believe in love, you’d thought, 
watching her rub her arm hair, and him 
shift in his shirt, but then you believe all
things end, and you’d tried so carefully
to explain what Marilyn Hacker meant,
how we “wake to ourselves, exhausted, 
in the late,” before you thought better
about it, staring down the rows, and cited
the fused limbs, and raised unlettered power
instead, the poem’s words comets’ tails
on blackboard. Now, you are finally leaving 
campus, content this time your heart 
has bettered the howl for sugar, your body 
hot from the work of itself, when you push 
through the glass door into fall—

and you remember a draft which was
just like this once, when, past 
the dorm curfew, Tim was clutching 
your elbows beside a lake, the air cricket
-thick, Cassiopeia encrusted in her collar. 
There is no loneliness as knowing. Years

later, when you were drunk yet again, 
at Le Lido, swimming the booth, 
the waiter—cloudy in his captain’s suit—sat 
with you. The gold-enameled dancer
was still mounting her white horse. He poured     
the champagne. You sipped it softly.
Their muscles erupted into the shivering
other as they strutted circles against
the stage, animal and woman, and you were 
grateful no one said a word. How 
could you have named the chill
of her breasts, the terrible hot fur? 
It was that gift of silence which happens
between strangers, out of country. Then 
you’d walked home, tall cathedrals
bristling in the baubles of their unrung
bells. You’d turned your collar up 
against the coming cold as you turn
up your jacket now, surprised
by the suddenness of the season 
(or your own inattention to the small
shifts), your breath crystal in air—
and each stripe, marking separation
down the asphalt, is lamped
and glistening, eerie as snow, solstice
certain as the short drive ahead, to when
you must walk up to your dark, quiet
house, sink your key into the lock.