This map flows river after river,
creeks popping through them, like bent nails.
I read its mind on Evelyn again,
wind stealing it from your hand,
stuffing it down its pocket of rapids.
I’d go to those rivers once.
It didn’t matter,
you’d never stop finding me.
So, I believed that what the tongues
and grooves of water had to say
that you loved a wilderness
more than I could ever.
You’d just come to me,
you, your invisible map,
only I could see,
so that nothing, I thought,
would steal it.
This funny place,
every place somewhere else.
How, I love you, turns a face,
changes minds, becomes a back.
into this river spine of loneliness
up freezing ground,
Here in Pikangikum territory in late August
your accent is the summer of pinaceae,
azimuth, canvasback, azure
and the lines of you scrawl on my back
and the hair of you spreads roots over blunt Obsidian,
and wrinkles smooth Anishinaabe lakes
northwest of Pikangikum territory in late August
as westerlies fill the cheeks of stratocumulus,
heavy-set, blueset as slate. But, this is not love, you state.
We must wait until our bones are stepping stones
set in waterskins, and scars and bruises
are rubbed in arrowheads of paint ending on a brush;
in other words, an eyelash that winces turpentine sting,
weeps on the shoulders of words
their bittersweet scent of juniper
giving up to us all we mean by that.
I pass your house
as morning fades in long reeds of smoke,
as transcendence returns steadily to its old fate.
I’ve hidden things we’ve misplaced there.
Returning now to them,
would the lips remember their directions
under the scent of bread in your hair,
or of those first chickadees
who seemed to believe, more or less,
in the beatitude of their seeds,
like blackberries in hedges of snow
outside a backyard window?
Or, of you and I, for that matter,
would they sense the instinct of grace,
which remembers all and forgets,
and like all imperfect things is
a simple air that, first, senses us?
The melt water on the window.
The snow settled on the rooftops.
My hand resting on your breast.
The heart is a strange room.
This evening I walked you to your car,
watched the headlights go,
the engine setting into the scent of night.
I switched the light off over the front steps
and in that moment,
while the snow still glowed,
like some new planet,
I glimpsed the footsteps of this shadow,
forever returning, endlessly leaving,
as if it knew better to trust the light.
There is less time to write now.
I leave the office at 5,
run for an hour.
I drive to your house with flowers,
kiss you. Kiss you, finally, and leave.
I think about calling on the drive home.
I make dinner for myself, wash,
set the alarm. I look for the matches
to light the candles so that I can sleep
and which I will set on my desk
where I spent all those nights writing.
I tell myself, nothing is wasted.
February takes me by surprise,
in the middle of it,
legless as knees
up to snow’s filthy quicksand.
Something’s calling though,
the river blind with meltwater,
the air leaking its signals into my lungs,
no louder than a heart caught
in the ear.
Every word requires a second language.
For example, there is no word for beauty,
though rivers are stories
about love, the plot of rafts,
I saw, glued-together by summer’d
under a winter’d disfigured bruise.
Of this language,
rivers are clear about this:
only bodies swim.
Only a body holds a promised land.
Only bodies drown, holy
as the river reiterating the river,
the blood, succinct, inside the wine.
Words between us are like birds
that have not returned.
We drive by the ice ponds
on the undeveloped land.
You take a left at the lights.
They circle, they cannot land.