Laura Kolbe studies medicine and poetry at the University of Virginia (U.S.A.).
A River Runs Through It, or, Denial
When least thought of, at the worst party:
there you are, the angler's fly, dull with stream-slaps,
ruddy and wagging along a water of girls.
If ever I smarted for you, hook in the lip,
I look at you now and see the toothbrush from hell,
all bristle and blitzkrieg, a Sturm and a drag.
Wise guy on the downdraft, ignore my wilds,
unmeasure whatever count you took of my seabelly,
my swimmer's stitch. I'm done with macho hammerjobs
and the greyscale hangover of finding your shirts
lolling like spawn in the still boxspring shade.
Spin bluebottles, spin Colt barrels, make one of your
shotgun dates. Gin up the phrases you'll use to describe me:
Small fry. Big mouth. Clung to the line like a wet blouse.
Innocent enough: you and your sister
swimming in the spring-fed pond, careful hold
on the warm pocket lit all day but it slips
away, the way a breast might slip out the top
of your camisole when you lie down to read:
no predicting how real heat in real water
behaves except with a hundred quivering
variables (the incoming cold grinding among
the plants; the plants; your legs in various browns,
silt on melanin on blood running thick with
hamburger lunch, with eighteeniness)
so after some sudden chill you get out,
old towel nubbed down to the feel of muslin
(after you've sopped it, the feel of dog-nose),
and your sister -
- your sister is gone, haphazard ripples
darting like lighter fluid at random on the pond's flats.
You're losing time if there's something to be lost,
otherwise you're within your rights to pause
a moment at her red sandals, her book
you gave last Christmas that she's only reading
now, you think, because she knows the sweet
velvet furrow it gives her forehead, echoed
dockside by the peachy roll that pouts
adorably below her navel with its glass stud
that you helped keep secret all last year -
- how did she get so pretty and insufferable?
There are some people on whom luck pearls
like a fine sweat. There are some molecules
that smell in their reagent flasks of oranges
in full sun, but a salt wash makes them waft up
pitch pine sulking under snow. If she's dead now,
you think, but only to feel for once the pearls
gathering on your lip and in your palms.
You call her. Nothing. Then you dive.
Your eyes in green dark, open to the whites,
are a submerged branch's dream: the fruit
that comes back to hang from the tree. No sister
on the cabin porch watching you frog through the water
would think you slow or find it odd that all
your swum shapes spelled across the pond
arced symbols of fortune, which break when you kick
into flecks of white: like pearls, or breath, or teeth.
Beauty: was it
the yellow-hot melt
of its many vowels,
alloy cast in its pouting
mold as stirrable slurry,
to the daredevil
touch, that made us invent
for our own relief
its less urgent cousin,
the trundling boy
you meet at movies,
in whose mouth you find
no furnace but
only a bit of tongue and
This novio, this novice
no match in his ironed pleats
for heat that turns
the fluorescent juices
of metals to pistols, chisels,
crowbars, poured into
Safer with beaux than with beauty,
Take home the stammering
and the heart
in green rings:
fierce affection. Feral need.
Wariness of wild
brings it closer, disguised.
It is like an animal that smells
your fear and
coils in your tub,
if your tub was the place
your soul lived.
by such mottled loops
you may see the pink
of its inner jaws,
their wet fire
and the hiss of the forge.
Thus does beauty clench us
until recognized again,
whereon it cracks and melts
your heart and bones.
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