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*****This was a commission piece I wrote for the composer, Eric Whitacre, about the birth of his son.
I picture you as a deep sea diver,
an ocean astronaut
floating, still formless,
in the darkness of the deep.
anchored by a thread
through which I am divided into simple single cells,
dissolved into blood and fluid
cycled then recycled in a quiet conversation
of breath and pulse, of water and air.
You skim under my fingers,
a movement across the surface of water.
Fill me full to cracking until something shifts.
The soft stirring of silt and sediment.
The subtle warning of quickly receding water.
You slow-dive your
way to the surface.
Pain comes in currents.
I survive in the air pockets,
in the stillness,
in the spaces in between.
My body mutinies,
expands and contracts
to the rhythm of its own ancient muscle memory,
clenching and releasing like a fist,
clamping down around me like a mouth.
Until I am dragged under
into the rushing silence, where there is nothing
but the weight of water
and the absence of air.
I panic in the undertow.
Push against the pull
until I am worn down
like a smooth stone. and I can’t tell where the surface is
or where the water ends and I begin.
So I just let go and breathe in.
My body clings to you like
like a quickly sinking ship.
You hover for a moment.
A spirit over the water.
I push you up until
you emerge wet and glistening,
a deep sea creature rising from the deep.
You are as whole and complete as a full day.
As separate from me as morning from evening.
I give you your name as you gasp—cord cut.
You rest on my stomach, a new shoreline cresting out of the waves.
I watch you fill yourself with air and pulse and life.
My body—formless and empty as the earth before God divided it into land, sky and sea and called it good.
37 degrees is the temperature a normal body holds.
She woke up cold beside him and already knew.
He stared up blinkless–dust already forming on his pupils.
She filled him again and again,
punching in time to the tinny disconnect of the speakerphone counting with her: one and two and three and four and five. She pauses, ear to mouth on the five–listening, watching–waiting for the slow rise that never comes.
He stayed wired and tubed three days,
her head on his chest–listening for the synapse of flesh inside machine.
Now, she sleeps with cadavers
and stares blinkless, head on chest,
counting, listening inside the intervals--for the slow rise that never comes.
I still reach for you
in the space between
reality and reflex.
to feel you flip
like a fish under my fingers
and not floating belly up somewhere
in a container marked biohazard.
While I am still here
swollen and sore,
refusing to contract,
to clench down
I wait as if not left,
gutted and gasping
like an empty fish bowl
still full of hope and fluid.
All that remains
is the marble of your back
as you lie on your side asleep
like a fallen column
on bed sheets stretching out
like forty years of Sinai sand.
I read the ridge of your spine
skimming the braille of vertebrae
for something buried deep
like a fault line
under the desert landscape
and turn over on your back
offering up the
alabaster of your throat
still and silent
as a sacrifice
I bow my head
fold myself into the open angle
of your side
like an unopened letter.
Press lips to temple,
feeling the pulse of buried blood
constant and hopeful
as a Psalm
Your breath cycles
mixes with mine
hangs in the air
like the unanswered prayer
of the faithless
still waiting for restoration.
In a windowless room,
our shirts pushed up
over the elbows,
in order to touch the bottom
without getting wet.
Feeling in the muck,
through the foreign food bodies,
for the soft stick of forks
and the smooth underbelly of spoons.
The mist from the sprayer slicks
every surface to a dangerous sheen.
The sound of food being scraped from
plates–like our unsaid thoughts,
half-formed in the false light,
The yawning of the dishwasher,
like a mouth opening and swallowing–
cycles of dirty then clean.
The door separates us from the eaters,
the consumers from the consumed,
the solar from the fluorescent.
But still at the end of each work-day,
when we walk out of the artificial glow
into the glare of the noonday sun,
it comes sharp and unexpected,
like finding a knife in dishwater.