The men I once knew
The men I once knew offered gifts,
like male penguins offering stones to a female
in the competition for courtship.
One offered a bag of lemons, bright and shiny,
still warm from the Mediterranean garden
where he plucked them. Another took me
on a boat. It had no life-jackets. We sailed
dangerously and I was sea-sick for days.
It’s no problem, he said, just watch the horizon.
The third kept painting me, Botticelli’s Venus,
he murmured, digging his brush
to the canvas, failing each time to find the line
that would match the line of my thigh.
Lemons. Life-jacket. My thigh.
We failed calamitously, we failed gloriously
too, and even now on any day,
I can’t say I ever felt ruined
by their attentions.
It was how we passed the time,
Never mistake an enemy
Never mistake an enemy, never offer
your hand. Like a raven finding an opening in flesh,
your enemy will enter your tender innards,
unravelling your gut, what made you strong enough
to even think of shaking hands.
To your enemy you are too vast to comprehend.
Why should she understand your need?
Walk out on your own path,
make a racket of your songs,
wear the wrong boots, the ones that have no studs,
and hear the bells of loyalty somewhere else.
Listen. A ragged starling on top of the poplar in January.
See. The northern sunshine bearing whispers of ice.
Feel. How stalwart the birches in winter
as you brush busily by, learning
to forget. Listen to your unriven gut,
take the long walk to freedom
and hear those high skies, a poetry
you never had to translate, which she
would never understand.