How do you take my devotion? Do you
have the letter I set on the mantel
the night after you trailed off like the train
whistle I heard thirty times a day for
thirteen years, approaching and receding
like nothing I’ve ever known except you.
The letter with the corners worn was my
heretic’s absolution, I wonder
if it was the white owl in the morning
thwarting your crossing with immigrant luck.
I hoped then puppy-love would set me afire
when the time was right to climb the ladder
of the oil tank. That dark acreage beyond
where I could carry myself on was far
away, but I trusted in revision,
penmanship, and in seeing you again.
It’s been so many years since you drove me
through the land that cradled and sang your name.
I saw it for myself, your ornament
on the gate, protected by bull nettle.
It occurs to me now that it’s not that
you’re not here, but that you’re not in the past.
I must have waited for you the way cows
wait every day for lightning, slow-chewing
the sweet from the stiff, pallid grass in time.
I wanted to show you this map I drew
of the distance across which I missed you,
either coming or going past the gate.
Remember the fires over the border,
the same ashes falling on our faces
when we were children? That’s why I write you.
I dream of your hair in heaps of copper
curlicues around my hands, unruly
like my own. It was our way of knowing
each other carnally, chaste as we were.
The day I sat you at my vanity
and worked with my fingers, I made of you
a portrait, rich in sensation and life,
and later, when we danced in your mother’s
camera, we talked about what we couldn’t have.
The video shows us looking spark-eyed
at each other, confronting the knowledge
that fate is a few locks of matching hair.
The night of the last letter I wrote you,
I had wrongdoings inside me, a new organ
knocking the walls of my family’s home.
I’ll never get it right, how I followed
your voice downstairs, and you held my sister
like a lantern before me. My father
said “Here is my bone of a daughter.”
The fragrance of the wax helps me recall
how I was catching fire and told you so
on the porch, remember? It was after
you wrote your guilt down and I ripped out
the page forever because I wanted to be
the sorriest in the last epistle.
Do you think what they say is possible?
that when the river collapsed its riprap,
breaking like wicker every big man who
stared across her current, that was a curse.
Who can say what it means when the crude black
bubbles up smelling egg-like and sucrose
as the melon which grew from the seed
I spat one summer. We’re vulnerable here,
to floods and droughts. Where the soil is shallow,
is God and your birth, but summer is cracked
open and melted from the mouth-red meat.