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The Body’s Joy

ISSUE:  Spring 1990

The slick kiss of an oyster slipping
across the tongue, a woman’s bare thighs
with her belly a velvet lake beneath
one’s hands, warm wind in spring, a change
in the weather, the touch of silk, sleep—

these become the body’s joy: a fire
on a cold night, good brandy, the separation
of a zipper, the senses all opening
like ornate doors through which the world
passes in its pumpkin carriage. The body

has a hunger to wallow in such moments
and hunts them out through a dark forest
of coffin lids and grandfather clocks.
But not the mind: for it the perfect moment
is the moment before, the drop of honey

elongating above the tongue, and so the mind
sorts through a series of alternative futures
before selecting some distant object—sex,
money, power—to activate work’s narcotic,
desire’s fur mitten, ambition’s limousine.

Both mind and body seek to discover whatever
defeats the steady gallop of time, whatever
distracts from the world’s devastation of moments,
so time itself can be made to dance like a ball
balancing on a spume of water in the sunlight.

Both seek to fracture the minuscule chamber
of each second, not to be bound by the one
door to the past or the other to the future,
but to create a third door, the best door,
opening onto an eternal present—a place

without guilt, regret or the prospect of pain.
Summer lawns slope down to a river where late
afternoon light sparkles on the water. We hear
the muted voices of our friends playing croquet,
women’s laughter and meat sizzling on a grill.

Off to the south all is dark, and to the north
the clouds are heaping up. There will be a storm,
but not yet, not yet. The slackening day beckons,
our feet sink into the soft grass, our friends
turn to greet us. For this impossible second,

that is ending even as we begin it, the world
becomes complete: our joy like a dragonfly poised
on a leaf, the moist touch of a glass against our lips,
a barn swallow that twists and flits, a bright
flung thing caught in the vanishing light.


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