At night, plum wine
is mercury dropping
down the stem of my stomach
after the bath--
the yard sublimes
to informality,
its five degrees of beauty
burnt off by dusk.
To see this cool--
red fish reflected in
round stones; white plum-bones sinking
under the ice
in their green spheres
like copper diving-bells
left down too long in the salt--
I risk the bends.
Hard bubbles of
language blacken my bones;
the mistress weeps mascara
into her wine
like heat-soured ink
from the brush I can’t hold--
her lashes, like tentacles,
run from my sight.
Women bathing
in wood tubs with lead taps
at sunset hunkered under
the streams, their eyes
averse to me
and my ears deaf to them,
shouting my body’s strangeness
to each other
across the steam,
the pipes repeating words
I captured from a language
I should not know.
I heard them say
I am white like morning
fish—nothing of metal, wood,
or water. No
structure under
my down-encumbered skin.
I heard, I tell the mistress,
who waits alone
among the plums
like a ray. She tells me
even ice harbors a sting—
crude drug whose cool
loosens the roots
of women’s hair. Heat is
incurable except by
sight of beauty
or more heat. All
else is poison. At four,
dogs cried welcome in doorways
like dogs I know,
red mouths reddened
by rust for lack of blood,
their teeth too soft to solve the
iron puzzles
that constrain them.
So the mistress and I
sit wine-faced, looking out where
the garden was.
Caught cicadas,
freed to the wire-charged night,
telephone their relatives
for news of home,
which is nearby.
Their bronze language carries
my words to the east, like string
between windows
on opposite
sides of a pond--a glass
full of wings to be drunk dry
down to the plums--
to plunder them
for green salt salvage, words
in common hauled back rusting
to the surface.
Much later, men
emerge from the floating
world, drunk on cicada-song,
river-song, drunk
on the train-swung,
vapor-grounded city,
swimming to uncertain homes
on liquid rails.
The mistress bathes
her husband in the tin
tub outside; their language melts
into darkness
like sailors lost
before the telephone
or salt in a boiling pot.
I hear alone,
my sea drained of
cool except the copper-
winged, plum-singing, poisonous
ice cube of home.

Cyd Harrell, 1998. All rights reserved.
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