Four Poems by Kathryn Kirkpatrick


Untouched Though I had wished you wizened in your fifties, without the easy grace that plunged me years ago into a sudden tremble, you show up in your olive skin, youthful and at ease, a kiss for each cheek, and thwart desire again. So I suit up my smile. Lace my laugh tight. And wonder if my hand will shake raising hot tea, or if I’ll turn some common word against itself syllables awry and limping. Ten years ago when I passed you in tight jeans, your hooded stare alarmed me. And I am still afraid of the heady, feral lurch I feel when our eyes meet. Now you take my unhinged glasses frames and deftly on your knee thread the tiny screw and tighten it with the tip of your knife. And I am enchanted again by the leap and gale of my desire by your own kind heart, patient and untouched.
Scottish Spring 1 At the B&B in Edinburgh we woke to scarcity, each morning our breakfast fare reduced to what we’d likely eat. She’d note what we’d left the morning before, and fine us, our landlady. First the orange juice gone. Then the second slice of bacon. As if appetites could be measured and named, desire itself accounted for, once and for all. There I dreamed of corpses and disease, myself with a mortician’s ease, wielding the knife. 2 When the plague swept the narrow walks of the old town, death became common as stones. More rare were the tulips kept by the wealthy in vases standing like porcelain hands, palms open, hollow fingered, with each 100 bulb forced into delicate yellow bloom. All around flesh still blackened. 3 On Iona rain nettled our faces. Your ears went red in the wind. I walked through the graveyard until my surname on the stones appeared once and then again. But the miracle comes later. Just back and early off the bus I step between two parked cars to sort through my overstuffed bag while an American in a VW bluer than the sky mistakes his gas petal for the brake. A crush of fenders. Glass in the street. The two parked cars meet. And somehow I am not between them. 4 Not bruised or even shocked though the car that rolled across my foot is so heavy now it takes four men to heave it. I retrieve my bag from beneath the wheel and find everything saved: the Celtic broach, the copper earrings, the puffin miniature, only a tiny horn missing from the highland bull. As if my whole life I’d been waiting for the quick spring, your arm at my waist my heart not even racing. Together now we remember nothing but instinct and grace. 5 At a bar on Mull I sit in stunned light while a man with the face of my father when young saunters to a stool. His smile dazzles the woman behind the bar as it always dazzled me. I do not introduce myself. I do not ask his name. Enough now just to be spared, my life steady and rooted as the heather covering these hills, poised for bloom. If centuries ago my clan was pushed to these watery borders by a bloody feud long lost, at least they found a home among saints and queens. Piloting boats beyond shoals, perhaps they gave their violence to the sea. Here with them I’ll leave my quarrel with the past. And here too I leave my father at the bar in friendly banter with a young woman who knows enough of him now, I can see, not to be taken in.
To the Woman Brought Back You almost died the white light swimming toward your face, your body uncurling from its fist to welcome that surrender. Your mouth was already the wind. Your heart was already the egret’s cry. But something held you here, fierce as a claw, studded you to a branch and hollow, stumbled back your spirit. Now you wake each morning in fear as if your next breath might shut down a star, censor the rain, quiet the calls of doves. But what if what we call divine brought you back through the world’s lips to be tasted tasting joy? Tell us about the deluge of bliss, The clouds woven at your feet.
The Mannikin Headless, he came out of my closet when I was six. He wore a suit and a tie. He spoke from a slip in his throat. And what he said, he said surely and clearly, even without a head: You’d better behave. It was a Saturday morning and my parents were still asleep. I had made my bed a trampoline where I leapt. Another young girl silenced, you might say. But I am not finished yet. Very soon I wanted a doll that spoke. Chatty Kathy. I pulled the ring in her throat and she told me her name. The pleasures of fixed identity. It was enough for a while. But Little Miss Echo had a box in her chest where I could record my own voice. She said the most amazing things: You may leap on the bed whenever you like. You need not wear a shirt. There is a kind of leaping I still do in bed, wearing, in fact, no shirt. And men in suits still tell me I ought to behave. You see, we go on much as before: the young girl leaping, the headless man speaking. Kathryn Kirkpatrick