A Protocol for Touch (Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, 7) by CONSTANCE MERRITT

By CONSTANCE MERRITT

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In juke joints, churches, and bad streets in town, When a speaker moves in close, gets near brass tacks, We say: Come on now, all right, break it down.  I set my will to date Men met by telephone who think my voice is Sexy and won't believe I'm overweight When I offer them a chance to cut their losses.  Left, I spit and brush for hours. Page 18 A Study in Perspective I. Looking at you was the hardest thing. Taking off my clothes While you stayed dressed, II. Nothing. III. My body a knife, my shoulder Its blade, I cut a path before me.

Let us sell him for he is our brother and our flesh.  Instead there is only This brilliant coat, a gift of love, that leaves Her vulnerable to cold and knowing eyes Until it seems she has no skin at all Except for silence, except the weave of words: Hound's-tooth, gingham, tulle, eyelet, chambray; Broad-cloth, denim, paisley, linen, wool. Her dreams grow full of birdsong; each bird says Its name: Cardinalis Cardinalis, Anas Carolinensis, Cyanthus Latirostris, Mimus Polyglottos, Cyanocitta Stelleri, Agelaius Phoeneciusover and over, Until, finally, sure it's meant for her, She gently stirs the waters' smooth bright skin, And bursting from the deep into the world, Its fear, its hurt, its roar; she tries her tongue.

And not because, as I have said, I loved you more, or am most good, Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable. Page 20 Motion Motion is the antithesis of faith. Knowing this, your best recourse is to forget Turn your pillow, find that cooler space, Shift from side to side to back to side. Try sleeping on your stomach for awhile, Limbs akimbo, then curled in a ball. Rush past the childish giddiness at presence Of one you love and get right down to sex, And spare yourself a grace you can't sustain.  Cities, like gods, Demand escape or, at least, resistance.

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