Art and Archeology
Mummified Hawk and Shrew, 1550 B.C.
A bundle like a tar-smeared ear of corn
and, next to it, a tiny packet like a charred
Here's faith tucked away in a sandal-
Abandoned House, Missouri, 1999 A.D.
Compared to this, our emblems seem so paltry,
Gerber baby smiled, winsome but wan,
unscrolling player piano rolls over
Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, though they need not be like one another.
--Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator"After the first time we'd made love,
you put your mouth over my nose and lips
and slid into me your breath
which lifted my chest like a deep inhalation
taken in a bath. It tasted like a tender
vapor of milk, and I felt its friction against
my windpipe, as if one body were being
slipped inside another. Why did you do it?
I had cried, afterward, as if past hurts had,
in the lapse of time, formed a new virginity. Now I lay
pooled in a heat weightless as a bath's, the body
stretched out longer than it's ever been, and I felt
an effervescence along
my nerves, the pleasurable burring aftermath
of fear. You pulled your face
out of the hollow of my neck, smiling down
on me, your drooping eyes narrowed
in amusement and something else - that gentle
ridicule I later would call
loving. You have the kind
of eyes I had never found beautiful
until then, when the gloss of blue light on the perfect
crescent of your lashes rebuked me.
I had watched our first kiss with a pang
of alarm. Your nose and lips seemed
monumental, equine, and then my lip was pressed
in a larger resilience that, startled, I had to take
the measure of. I could see
the border of your lip, the tender red
ridge where it met your skin, the glittering
grit of whisker cupped in each pore. Or was it
dismay: seeing like this made a permanent
image, confirmed the hand
you'd placed on the back of my hand
before the kiss, the appalling automatic way
my palm turned up to yours when you said, So
its settled, then. We sat on a hill
and in the darkness our pasts seemed to have hands
and faces and looks that also reached for a first
prolonged touch - and were so alien, so
already known - their friction lit up
our stories with a flare.
Karen Holmberg was raised in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound. She holds an MFA from the University of California-Irvine and a Masters Degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Southern California. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such magazines as The Paris Review, Slate and The Nation. She was a 1996 winner of the Discovery/The Nation Award, and her book, The Perseids, won the 2000 Vassar Miller Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Missouri Press in Spring of 2001.