To His Lost Lover

Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other
he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost
unfinishable business.
For instance... for instance,
how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush
at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery—
two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather—
walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.
How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips
from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit
or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart
was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.
Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.
And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,
then another,
or knew her
favourite colour,
her taste, her flavour,
and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair
into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved
when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home
through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand
to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.
And never almost cried,
and never once described
an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt
nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh
wept by the heart,
where it hurts,
or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.
Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,
a pilot light,
or stayed the night,
or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is
I like you.
I just might do.”
How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand
were a solid ball
of silver foil
and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.
But said some things and never meant them—
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.
And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.

from The Book of Matches (1993)


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