Nebraska Center for Writers

THE KISS
by Marcia Southwick

It's Fall. I walk around looking like everyone else.
But I've got decorative combs in my hair...
I'm keeping these maples a secret.
They're doing me a favor, changing color.
I'm their guest. I won't be staying all that long,
but when I pluck a dying leaf, it's as if I'm holding
Time in my hands. Sadness isn't inoculating me anymore,
its chilly needle in my heart. I'm lucky.
I'll probably come out smelling like a rose!
The crows are gone, their caws
unintelligible like private jokes.
That was a close one, I almost didn't construct
infintesimal distances to keep me aloof.
I almost didn't keep the clear boundaries
between things intact. But now I'm saved.
I've got my own breakable silence. It's there.,
right now, in front of me, in the form of a man
who loves me. He's not saying anything,
but what a kiss! And my standards are high!
If you only knew what it was like,
you'd want to be a poet like me. You'd want
to consciously work out your whole life
just to receive one such kiss! Is the Afterlife
something like this, maybe--an extended moment
in which we are forced to live by a different logic,
as our bodies do? We've invented a new alphabet
in which touch exists on the border of speech:
On the other side of the border. Time speeds up--
there goes my birthday--and we're already wondering
are the mourning doves here to forgive and console?
Our impressions of the stars are uncorrected ones.
We fall in love, marry, and the clock in the hall strikes five.
We fall away from our personal histories and scarcely notice
the small injustices. After years of scrutinizing each other's faces,
we still love what we see. We're saying that we're old.
We would rather shed our skins. We're saying that
the protean character of our souls will sustain us after death.
And why not? Do the maples care if their lost leaves
become documents proving that we were here? Thank goodness
the wind is shaking a little sense into those trees and we
have not fallen out of favor. I want to live here
no matter how difficult it is, on such short notice,
to take the place of the bulky shadows, no matter
how difficult it is to let the wind take away the leaves.
This kiss, I'm certain, is a form of erasure bringing us closer,
for a single moment, to the center of the earth's attention.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1987
by Marcia Southwick

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