There are a variety of ways to respond
to despair: drinking, weeping, picking
fights in bars. I took a lover under
the stairwell of a brownstone
at a party in Brooklyn. It was winter,
had been a week of buttoned collars
and long, black coats, of the nurses
from St. Vincent’s taking their cigarette
breaks huddled against the hoods
of ambulances, pale blue scrubs flapping
at their knees, of hotdog vendors working
stiff bottles of ketchup and mustard
in their gloved hands, of corner
bodega roses frozen fast in their
buckets of water. It was also the week
I learned my body could do itself harm,
arriving at the doctor’s office, cheeks
bitten red by cold, the nurse saying, Sit down.
All I remember from that party
were his hands moving in quick dressage
under my blouse, the tangled carousels
of dust motes falling from the stairs
above our heads, and how every time
I wanted to cry out instead I made that
tender bird of desire nestle in my mouth.
All bodies hold secrets. My lover’s armpit
were whittled ampersand hollows. I clutched
at the spaces that were not there.
Keetje Kuipers was a Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and an Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, her poems, essays, and fiction have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry. Her first poetry collection, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was published by BOA Editions (2010). Her second collection, The Keys to the Jail, was published by BOA in 2014. Keetje is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University where she is Editor of Southern Humanities Review.
This poem appeared in Beautiful in the Mouth.