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.
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.
I lie on a bare mattress watching
blades of the ceiling fan slice lightning,
bat it in pieces from wall to wall,
fireworks in the room’s night sky.
I am thinking of you, and Habermas,
and of the logic of lightning,
how reasonably nature behaves
catapulted from sky to earth
to the rooms of human sleep,
and how unreasonable I am—heart-lens
awake in the dark, filtering nature’s design—
to feel in the pulse of rain pelting the window
your fingers of weeks, months ago,
still tangled in my hair.
by Robin Davidson
Read by Dave Bonta — Download the MP3
In the August garden in moonlight
the iron bells rust, the wind itself is rust
and silence. What’s left of water in the birdbath
becomes the stone which holds it.
The frog, the lilies, all pale green stone.
Green veins on white caladiums
narrow toward stems drooping,
leaning toward the clay.
If I were a child, I would read or kneel,
wait out emptiness till I could feel a rising
in my chest like laughter or blood or song,
but here on the stone steps, I ride
the rhythm of loss. It loosens my hair
at the roots, robs it of color strand by strand.
It pulses blue in the raised veins
in my hands, breasts, in the spreading
veins behind my knees, dirtied blue
marble visible only when I stop,
turn to look back.
A wise man loves water. I long to believe
contentment moves like a river within us,
exceeding time and desire.
August caladiums shine like white stones,
heart‑shaped, blank but for vascular
traces of green. I long to believe
these are the traces of rapture
not yet forgotten, bits of green
nourishing the form they inscribe,
sustaining them just above the soil
so that it appears they wait a while,
live as long as they can.
by Robin Davidson
Read by Beth Adams — Download the MP3