There is one story I can hear again
and again, the story where the shoe fits,
where the tempered steel snagged in the cleft rock
eases itself into the proper hand, where
the stranger flings back his hood and Robin
kneels in that verdant heart, where the mourner
complains to the gardener, where the man
with the child on his back stands open–mouthed
half–way across the river as his old name
flows away, where the one who beds the hag
wakes in the morning to the young queen.
Put your hand in my side, he said: yes, yes,
now I see. Not discovery—you knew it
already; not disguise stripped bare; but re–
cognition, the train leaping the synaptic track,
the ship slipping its galactic tether,
the perfect stone skipping its way across
the cloudy nebulae. He promised me
a thing that is not easy: boots of the skin
of a fish. I have worn those boots, I have
worn them down, the leather carp-rosy, the old scales
petalling the sides, a vellum so sheer
my pulse blushed salmon–ruddy through that
suppleness, that tenderness so shocking to the heel.
In those boots I have walked for seven leagues,
I have walked for seven years, the moon
bounding before me, wringing out its white loins
every twenty–eight dreams. In those boots I stood
in the cave where the wheat–sheaf lights the dead
to life, I stood in the ball court and watched
the blood fly, I stood in the cathedral
where even the glass is stained, and I am
no believer. Yes, I have seen the victor run
triumphant into darkness, the vanquished giddy,
drunk with free–flowing rain. Who was that masked man?
And mama, why did he leave us, hi–yo
Silver away? On the fourth day without sleep,
edges began to shimmer, one action
bled into another, the molecules
the atoms veering off into space: what goes
when you choose noon over midnight. As a planet
turns first one cheek and then the other
to best advantage, as a planet
slowly turns its ravaged face to the light,
we come round at last. The moon swells, the moon
empties. Some nights, I swim sleeved in darkness,
a fish flowing into itself, flowering out
of its own elements; some days, I walk the earth
flayed of my skin, and every breeze salts the wound,
my eyes seared, my tongue scalded—coals of fire.
If the skin fits, wear it, fling back the hood, ease your
worn heart from your side, wake in the morning as
the new queen. Re–cognition. This is
what you are, and this is where: so much light spilling
over the lip of the world, it slakes, it dazzles,
it splashes profligate into the trees.
About the Author: Nathalie F. Anderson's first book, Following Fred Astaire, won the 1998 Washington Prize from The Word Works. Her poems have been singled out for prizes and special recognition from the Joseph Campbell Society, The Cumberland Poetry Review, Inkwell Magazine, The Madison Review, New Millennium Writings, Nimrod, North American Review, and The Southern Anthology, and have also appeared in APR's Philly Edition, Cimmaron Review, Cross Connect, Denver Quarterly, DoubleTake, Louisville Review, Natural Bridge, Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, The Recorder, Southern Poetry Review,Spazio Humano,and in the Ulster Museum's collection of visual art and poetry, A Conversation Piece. A 1993 Pew Fellow, Anderson teaches at Swarthmore College, where she is a Professor in the Department of English Literature and directs the Program in Creative Writing.
"The Slaking" ©2000 by Nathalie F. Anderson. The poem may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.