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The Babysitter

The baby was about six months old,
a girl. The length of her life, I had not
touched anyone. That night, when they went out
I held the baby along my arm and
put her mouth to my cotton shirt.
I didn’t really know what a person was, I
wanted someone to suck my breast,
I ended up in the locked bathroom,
naked to the waist, holding the baby,
and all she wanted was my glasses, I held her
gently, waiting for her to turn,
like a cherub, and nurse. And she wouldn’t, what she wanted
was my glasses. Suck me, goddamnit, I thought,
I wanted to feel the tug of another
life, I wanted to feel needed, she grabbed for my
glasses and smiled. I put on my bra
and shirt, and tucked her in, and sang to her
for the last time — clearly it
was the week for another line of work —
and turned out the light. Back in the bathroom
I lay on the floor in the dark, bared
my chest against the icy tile,
slipped my hand between my legs and
rode, hard, against the hard floor, my nipples holding me up off the glazed
blue, as if I were flying upside
down under the ceiling of the world.

Know-Nothing

Sometimes I think I know nothing about sex.
All that I thought I was going to know,
that I did not know, I still do not know.
I think about this out of town,
on hotel elevators crowded with men.
That body of knowledge which lay somewhere
ahead of me, now I do not know where it
lies, or in the beds of strangers.
I know of sexual love, with my beloved,
but of men — I think there are women who know
men, I can’t see what it is
they know, but I feel in myself that I
could know it, or could I have been a woman
who would dare that. I don’t mean what she does
with her body, or that she would know more pleasure,
but she knows something true that I don’t know,
she knows fucking with a stranger. I feel
in awe of that, why is she not
afraid, what if she did not like
his touch, or what he said, how
would she bear it? Or maybe she has mercy on pretty much
anything a stranger would say or do,
or maybe it is not mercy, but sex,
when she sees what he is like, she enflames for that,
and is afraid of nothing, wanting to touch
stone desire, and know it, she is like
a god, who could have sex with stranger
after stranger — she could know men.
But what of her womb, tender core
of her being, what of her breasts’ stiff hearts,
and her dense eggs, what if she falls
in love? Maybe to know sex fully
one has to risk being destroyed by it.
Maybe only ruin could take
its full measure, as death stands
in the balance with birth, and ignorance with love.

19

When we took the acid, his wife was off
with someone else, there was a hole in their bedroom
wall where the Steuben wedding owl
had flown from one room right into another,
I was in love with his best friend, who had
gone into a monastery
after he’d deflowered me, so we
knew each other — when he came, under
my palm I could feel the circular ribs of his
penis, I came with my legs wrapped around his
leg, even with my toes pointed, my
feet reached only halfway down
his calf, later I was lying on the bathroom
floor, looking up at him, naked, he was
6’6″, a decathlete,
my eyes followed the inner curve of his
leg, up, up, up,
up, up, up, up.
Weeks later, he would pull a wall-phone
out of a wall, and part of the wall, the
wires like deseeded vesicle; he would
cross the divider in his Mustang with me and go
60, against 2 a.m. traffic, crying, I could
hardly hear what he said about the barbed
wire and his father and his balls — but that
acid night, we stayed up all night, I was
not in love with him, so his beauty made me
happy, we chattered, we chatted naked, he
told me everything he liked
about my body — and he liked everything —
even the tiny gooseflesh bumps
around my hard nipples,
he said the way to make love to me
would be from behind, with that long angle, his
forefinger drew it, gently, the deep
hair-pin curve of the skinny buttocks,
he said it the way I thought an older
cousin in a dream might give advice
to a younger cousin, his fingertip
barely missing my — whatever, in love, one would
call the asshole, he regarded me with a
savoring kindness, from some cleft of sweetness in the
human he actually looked at me
and thought how I best should be fucked. Oooh.
Oooh
. . . It meant there was something to be done with me,
something exactly right, he looked at me
and saw it,
willing to not be the one
who did it — all night, he desired me and
protected me, he gazed at my body and un-
saw my parents’ loathing, pore by
pore on my skin he closed that old couple’s eyes.

The Talkers

All week, we talked. We talked
in the morning on the porch, when I combed my hair
and flung the comb-hair out into the air,
it floated down the slope, toward the valley,
we talked while walking to the car, talked
over its mild, curved roof,
while opening the doors, then ducked down
and there we were, bent toward the interior, talking.
Meeting in the middle of the day,
the first thing when we saw each other
we opened our mouths. All day,
we sang to each other the level music
of spoken language. Even while we ate
we did not pause, I’d speak to him through
the broken body of the butter cookie,
gently spraying him with crumbs. We talked
and walked, we leaned against the car and talked
in the parking lot, until everyone else
had driven off, we clung to its dark
cold raft and started a new subject.
We did not talk about his wife, much,
or my husband, but to everything else
we turned the working of our lips and tongues
— up to our necks in the hot tub, or
walking up the steep road,
stepping into the hot dust as if
down into the ions of a wing, and on the
sand, next to each other, as we turned
the turns that upon each other would be the
turnings of love — even under
water there trailed from our mouths the delicate
chains of our sentences. But mostly at night, and
far into the night, we talked until we
dropped, as if, stopping for an instant, we might
move right toward each other. Today,
he said he felt he could talk to me forever,
it must be the way the angels live,
sitting across from each other, deep
in the bliss of their shared spirit. My God,
they are not going to touch each other.

These poems first ran on NERVE in 1999