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The Lyric Angel

March 14, 2012

by Robin Davidson

after Rafael Albertí

She half believed him to be a man,
the traces of black hair on each knuckle of his hands,
reminiscent of her father’s fingers tapping
the darkening ivory of piano keys when she was six, seven.
He opened a familiar music in her.

She would come to him late afternoons
to watch the muscles in his back tighten, unfold,
like a man’s fists opening into prayer,
his whole body turned from her in thought, reading.
She watched the collar of his blue sweater
for a sign, for the pulse of artery in his neck. She wanted
no divine agency, only the flesh and bone
of a man’s hands pressed firm against her face.

She loved the blond, slatted back of the oak chair
she came to when he worked at his desk. Each slat curved,
separated by the exact distance of her own cupped palm.
Each, a picket in the gate to a garden taking root
in her head or chest or thighs.

One night she dreamed she was lost among books,
lay down among rows of shelves on the library’s tile floor,
and wrapped herself in the smell of old paper
until she found him there just above her,
his wide shoulders, bare back, a palpable pressure.
And for once she appreciated the terror of a Rilkean angel.
But even as a dreamer she knew her own dreaming state,
knew he was all words and typeset and eternal humming.
He could open a hallway in her chest, fill each muscle with light.
This was his job, great messenger of the erotic,

but he could not open her knees, bury his own hard flesh.
He must have been sent to instruct her in longing,
to open the old wound where language begins.
She knew she should be grateful,
should push back tears, remind herself to stand up,
gather the voices of books into her arms.


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Robin Davidson’s poems and translations have appeared in 91st Meridian, AGNI, Literary Imagination, Paris Review, Tampa Review and Words Without Borders, as well as the Polish journal, Fraza. She is co-translator, with Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, of The New Century: Poems from the Polish of Ewa Lipska, and has received, among other awards, a Fulbright professorship at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and a National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowship. She teaches literature and creative writing for the University of Houston-Downtown, and lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and their two adorable Chihuahuas.

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  1. Katherine
    March 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    As always, so beautiful your work, your voice, Robin.

  2. Robin Davidson
    March 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Oh thank you so much, Katherine–I miss you!

  3. Lois
    March 16, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Absolutely stunning work. I aspire to write a poem this fine in my lifetime.

    “And for once she appreciated the terror of a Rilkean angel.”…..

  4. robinfdavidson
    March 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you very much, Lois–I deeply appreciate what you say. Alberti really gets the credit here–his work is phenomenal. Take a look at his book, CONCERNING THE ANGELS, translated by Geoffrey Connell, first published by New Directions in 1966. It’s an amazing read! Gratefully, robin

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