The Slaking

by Nathalie F. Anderson

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.