What I really want to know is how rough, Melissa,

the leaves below the shredded cup of the Aster’s
face need to be before it changes species
from Showy Aster to Willow to Rush—Aster Radula
being the name of what I thought I was
seeing—fingers first—reading the neck through
touch—a kindness of soft needles—much like the shot I give
myself once a week now—having increased the gauge exponentially
which has the inverse effect on the amount of skin I am
required to surrender in order to wake up in a body I was
told could not live in this world and be loved—
is not a fair synonym for soft—naming you I
have found another way to send my body back
in time to claim how she wants to be
touched—it’s been over three weeks and I still can’t
find the face of the bird that threatens music—silence— 
whatever you want to call it when a well of metal triangles
is rung underwater and poured from the familiar
little mouth of a ghost—
                                                      every morning I want
to know without drama really how many things I will kill
today—a question of attention—an experiment of turning
god into my body—learning to live in the could-
mean of pine-broken light—
                                                    when I hid you,
Melissa, I became every man
who tells a woman she would be more safe
if only she would keep herself inside—a hive
of mercies we were backhanded into—unknowingly
praying we wanted to unlearn how to pray—
                                                                               I am
almost ashamed I could not name it—how little
pleasure I feel when I touch things only
because I am afraid to be touched—

Copyright © 2021 by TC Tolbert. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.