The Small Country
Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten
And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?
Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?
And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?
What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?
What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.
Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it.
And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.
Originally published in The New Yorker. Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.
Ellen Bass is the author of Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.
Date Published: 2019-02-12
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/small-country