by Robert Thomas
You'll never take off your blue cashmere
for me, your jade belt, or even your white
walking shoes that squeak like a nurse's.
Who are you with now, taking his pulse?
Why am I just well enough not to warrant
your care? Those snow-white stockings
will never drift on my floor like waterlilies.
I will row the boat of my sleek, narrow bed
to the center of the lake and bask in the sun,
opening my basket of strawberries, a buttery
cheese, and a musky bottle of Spanish wine,
and very gently, carefully get drunk alone.
I've had the sun's pleasures, but you are the snow
I've never known. I can only imagine the falling
crystals on my tongue, each one the moist word
of a poem in a language I barely know, fleurs,
chaleurs, douleurs ... the blizzard of your body.
I think of Ötzi, the Ice Man, 5,000 years ago
in the southern Alps, herding his sheep home.
He was prepared for anything: a quiver of cherry
and dogwood arrows, a longbow of yew, an ax
of burnished copper, mushrooms and einkorn
in a leather pouch, stripes and a cross of blue-
black soot tattooed on his ankles and back.
When the snow came, he didn't have a chance.
An unusually warm summer, tourists on a picnic,
salami and orange soda in their packs. They saw
the back of his skull jut from the thawing snow
and made a call from their cell phone, talking
excitedly in a language that meant nothing
to Ötzi: strange vowels, inhuman consonants.
I think if you gave yourself to me for just one
afternoon, sunlight lapping at the lace curtains,
I would be lost in a livid white storm within four
howling walls. My extremities would start to go
numb, sensation shrink to an azure flame, my lips
just starting to form the first words of your language.
The Atlantic Monthly, July 2002.