A Workable Venus

Original Text: 

Wayne Clifford. The Exile's Papers: Part Three: The Dirt's Passion Is Flesh Sorrow. Erin, Ontario: Porcupine's Quill, 2011.

1We can't agree on how
2to make the bed. You tuck.
3I like to leave some toe-room
4free. You'll pull the covers up.
5I like to see the sill's geraniums,
6how light gets fed across
7the lifelines of each leaf.
8Instead of winter's slant,
9you want the mystery
10of muzzy blowhole
11nuzzled shapelessly
12about your nose
13so I'll guess
14your hid head.
15Then why's it me
16who dreams the underside
17of sea-ice, sun-shaft plankton
18swirling motes, the whole embrace
19of pressure? so I rise
20to breathe what only breath
21can here confide, the waking
22whispers ready in our throats.
23Your eyes open, open
24without surprise.
25In these few days,
26the paint's become the wall.
27A matter of some names,
28and how we see. Or name
29the seeing, that we can agree
30the wall looks so much better.
31Where the fall of sunlight seems
32so clean is still the wall,
33but paint has dried beyond
34its name, is free of any sense
35but colour. It was we who filled
36and brushed and rolled, now
37must recall where nick was,
38scuff was, smudge, below the skin
39of name that covers them. If soon
40enough fresh paint records
41our clumsy lives as stuff
42of knock and rub, a surface
43marred to in, how can we think
44its namelessness to blame?
45Does all that needs a naming
46know its name?
47I know the weight
48of a sleeping child's arm,
49will, after, guess it still,
50the mass of night
51humped up the breath-stitched stairs,
52weight right for such a child, this
53sleeping child. No harm will come,
54what harm might come, oh,
55please, no harm, they're only
56stairs up into dark, so light
57a load, in fact, despite the stitch,
58the tight across the small of back,
59no need alarm the child who'd wake and struggle,
60eased a-bed as heaviness
61I'd have climbed higher for,
62and, sliding from shoulder,
63arm's lax embrace become
64fingers curled on palm instead,
65just that, a holding on to nothing. More
66we can't hang onto, if this leaves no trace.
67The window on the landing
68looks out west. The light
69late afternoon falls in so clear,
70the orchid's spot-lit bloomlessly
71sincere on Uncle Allen's corner stand.
72Impressed, I stop mid-flight
73to let the light suggest
74that later I'll have nothing
75I need fear when this light
76has gone and dark's here,
77when coming up these stairs
78portends a rest
79needful, says dark,
80though there's so much
81to do, urgent, says dark,
82though I'd sooner not lie down
83just yet, not have orchid leaves
84curl black against the wall's dimness.
85'Oh, turn,' say you, 'the landing light on,
86rather than!' and frown, as though
87the dark were simply light's lack.
88If doing dishes warms my hands,
89then why as I'm standing here
90with the warm drape of water
91over knuckles do I think
92of your nape, the fragile hairs
93thereof? My hands would pry,
94if you were standing here,
95your braid awry that bit to tease
96your huff, let strays escape
97enough that I could blow
98a tickle's scrape so lightly
99you'd give up to teasing, sigh.
100Then I'd give up and kiss your nape.
101You'd smile. There are some truths
102so easy to predict, the speculation
103is as good as act. If you'd come
104in this kitchen, catch me while
105I smile my daydreamed teasing,
106would you have picked the moment
107just to see how I'd react?
108You went out and left the radio on
109upstairs. I thought I heard these voices.
110If I heard voices, where, the open window?
111Blurred chatter, insistent, eager,
112bringing affairs of consequence here,
113now, as are our cares to us argued,
114teased, if not so spurred to fill air-time.
115And that's how I was lured
116upstairs alone, and found the voices
118         these strangers talking
119strange concerns, not ours.
120A thousand times I've talked with you
121right here. This room we thought,
122when kids moved out, was spare,
123now where we both make and do,
124the hours passing twilight,
125lamplight contracting near,
126our voices silent, focus
127sagged to stare.
128You're breathing there. But words,
129if mortal, too, and other, as
130your mouth speaks these alive,
131these very I had hoped you'd let
132arrive on tongue-tip, so, with bits
133of me as you, you'd know this speaking
134is an act of love.
135                         Those moments past
136in which a dark might thrive,
137a calming dark, its voice repeating
138true its comfort in the shifts
139that snag recall as it gropes back
140along forgotten's wall, you know
141those moments, and the voice thereof.
142It isn't that the stories in the dark,
143repeated past their meanings
144to that spark the voice itself was,
145would speak for what is all.
146The world can't be so safe.
147But words will do.
RPO poem Editors: 
Jim Johnstone
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Poem used with permission of the author.