Very Many Hands
You remind me of the Underground Railroad. I’ve learned to watch
for the kerosene lamp aglare in your distance. Past the fuel and wick
at the far end of your forest, there’s a mud basement, a soot-slick coal
cellar with my sleeping body’s name on it. I could lie still forever in
that part of you. But then I’d never make it North.
* * *
I am made of what I am afraid to remember. Come tell me more
about what I was—about the brothers, mind-ancient now, fleeing
Mississippi with spilled moon ready in their eyes. Go back and tell me
about that one before that one that sold a mother. Wait. Then give
me more about the buzz of war, of San Diego shipyards, of
handsome sailors you couldn’t trust. Make vivid the night with me
before me in it. Tell me what was lost on the way to Detroit. Tell me
what was lost leaving Detroit. Tell me why I’m afraid for and of
Detroit. Tell me Desire can’t mean what it meant anymore. And I
can’t mean what I meant anymore. Am I lovesick with amnesia or
I sit twelve people down the church pew from you, trying to catch
the rhythm in your blinking. I seek more than your face. It hurts
to see the way sound makes a tunnel. Its root-veined walls there then
gone. You and I compose another kind.
* * *
Witness my long line of lovestruck liars: those who can’t take the sky,
deceivers of their own eyes, change lovers, receivers of forgetfulness,
ecstatic touchmongers, merciless collagists, the spiritually jackknifed,
ever-children and the like. I am each of them and heavy hands red on
cold glass holding why-still-blue water, in dull music, surrounded by
bloom, fear-lit and forever-fraught. This is a truth; not-quite-closed
eyes scrambling over nakedness elusive as hope. But barely hope.
Lovestruck, lying, I wonder about everything I’ll find in this body—
and this body. I wonder what it knows. I wonder about yours.
I am wrapped in a shawl of patchwork wants. Of languages displaced
in veins. Of sheet rock cut open with explosives to force through
byways and sow man-high seas of crops, to make space for
interstates, for cold emergencies and tanks, and touch.
* * *
I am stitched together with the risk inside Desire. Call risk a bridge.
Call one palm full of why-still-blue water—oh, how my mind is just
my mind crossing. Not the limb of a ghost stuck in the hinge of a
door. Not the fight lost inherent in a child. Who was it that dipped an
index finger into my mouth, fished that penny from my tongue,
saved me from some dumb Desire? Who was it? Who watched as I
stood there too in line, too silent, trying to fall behind, an almost
question in my near-new eyes?
Copyright © 2017 Aaron Coleman. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Fall 2017.