She’s closed the door of her room today, which means
you’re being tested. Don’t call through the door,
don’t seek to enter by action, word, or thought,
the three intentions necessary for sin. Or sit outside
and wait; she hates that, tells you you’re a lost puppy.
The language you must use evokes intentionality
but doesn’t make a specific claim. The steps you take,
quietly down the hall, argue you have a right to touch
hands, lips, the bent arch of her back, Pleistocene joints.
Behind the wood and walls she pores over her anatomy,
her thick tongue clucking in its eerie patois, Baba Yaga
in her hut preparing to infuse the stew with bone marrow.
Her hair will further bleach in the sun, another reason
she’s inside. She’s inside today, and this is less a test
than a drill, your body prone to victory by dint of memory,
your body lurching solemn through the paces once more,
she your sergeant, she your whore, she your princess
though you never asked her to be any of them.
You had only asked to touch hands, lips, the bent arch,
and for that quiescence which was hers, which only she
could give, removed from all trappings of dress-up and
playing pretend. Truth be told, she’s your beloved drunk,
and the thousand deaths you die as you walk the hallway
separated from her by nothing but her own will are
nothing, nothing at all, perhaps a turn of the seasons,
sun behind clouds, rain behind clouds, banks of clouds.
Steve Bertolino lives in Middlebury, Vermont, where he works as an academic librarian and serves on the executive committee for the New England Young Writers’ Conference. His most recent publications include poems in Right Hand Pointing and Big River Poetry Review, and forthcoming from Red River Review.