Spring 1991, Volume 8.1


Read other work by Katharine Coles published in
Weber Studies: Vol. 9.3 (Interview with Mark Strand)Vol. 13.1Vol. 13.1 (Interview with David Lee);  and Vol. 14.1.


Sex as a Trope

Down, hands flat
to the earth, the loam
she feeds and coaxes
life from, she knows
as if by sight what roots
thicken belowcarrots
growing brilliant, potatoes,
rich turnips. She wipes
her hand on her shirttails,
goes in, takes a stiff brush
to her nails, aching,
packed with dirt. The rain
arrives as predicted.
Light wavers like water
through the potted herbs
gone wild on her windowsill.
She pinches mint for tea,
lays out her cup, the kettle
on the burner. She will rock
awhile by the window. Rain
pushes at the glass like wasps
on those chilly days in autumn.
The way, she thinks, a woman
pushes herself against
the surface of the world,
as if it might open
into shelter, a small, light place.
He tells her how the girl
bent down her head,
her sleeve and collar torn,
how she touched her eyelid,
pushed almost shut
and still darkening, touched
her swollen lips, her whole face
grown beyond itself
to one she couldn't find
her own in. He thinks
she felt sorry for that stranger,
reached her hand
to the mirror, a gesture
all the comfort she had
to offer. He says it was only
what it was. A girl
wept before the mirror.
She unbuttoned her blouse
again for the camera. Hard,
the lights revealed no more
than they were meant to. A document,
ways a touch can blossom.
He says the men spoke
gently to her. Asked her
to turn. Turn again.
They are used to the turns
love takes. The woman wonders
how long the bruises
would show. How much longer
every touch would hurt.
Gravity. Bodies come together
and spin free, wheeling off
into time's inexplicable curve.
Explicable, then. The universe
as a loaf of bread rising.
But what's bread
that can't be tasted, smelled
coming out of the oven? Bonehead
Astronomy, she remembers. Physics
for the simple, who understand
what they touch. Is it the future
or the past that draws her
from bed to window?
What's the difference, if it all
curves back on itself?
Star bright, but the sky
is full of stars tonight
and she can't say which
first caught her eye. Star light,
it carries old news quickly,
the message changing with distance,
the speed of retreat.
Even the sun and earth,
so intimate, miss each other
again and again. Even
the heavenly bodies fly
apart as fast as they can.
Now, in her body
rising separate into the night,
or when she escapes her body in sleep,
she likes this hurtling
through space, this going away
fast. Star bright. She sends
her wish to all of them.
Remember a little
torn-up garden. Shrubs
laid bare, their clipped tops
strewn on the walks. Everything
cut and tied for autumn.
The grass widened out
to a park, still green,
and the birds hopped
from sunlight to sunlight
as if the late warmth meant
summer might stay. The food was simple
thick bread, cheese, pears
and the last grapes passed palm
to fingertip, mouth to mouth.
Because of its gravity
they took the world
lightly, as the leaves had
all summer, turning
above the lawns and swept stones.
And suddenly the wind
pulled them freeleaves
spinning fast to the ground
or lifting on intricate drafts
Red, bright yellow, the air
whirled with leaves, and they both
turned spread-eagle
on their backs, mouths open,
glad for the fall.
He tells her he took
his daughter to the carnival
Vendors. The young
in their Saturday motley, bright
and threadbare. The rides whirled,
silly with lights and music.
For once he watched the men.
The women, as always, passed by
as if in the distance, self-
possessed. Their feet turned out
gently, he says, in that way
women's feet have, and their throats
were damp in the heat. He wanted
to reach out and touch
their napes, just touch them
where their hair clung
in tendrils escaping
those bright claspsbut as he said
he was watching the men:
they craned after the women;
some would turn for a moment
and walk backwards, watching.
He tells her
they made noises. Growls
low in their throats. Hoots.
Or just their mouths
working, growing moist. The women
he'd never noticed before
looked at no one.
Or rather, they turned
only their eyes now and again,
as if asking directions, as if
to catch glimpses of themselves.
She falls awake,
clinging to the sheets,
then climbs the long ladder back.
She dreams to get things right,
and over with. Cold
that spreads. Poison,
dinner gone badly. Surrender
to fire, fever, passion,
all the same. To the touch
of a stranger, the caress of one
who loves her too much
to let her escape,
tonight, into dreams, or tomorrow
into her own life. She wonders
if it matters whose hands,
another's or her own, carry her
roughly into the night.
The end will come
violent after allif not in pain
or wrenching light, or even
in flames swelling her, then
in her body surrendered to time
as it's always been. It is
everything to her, and nothing.