Epithalamium

I tell you, I felt like an elephant
that night, the night of the harvest.
Each furrow put on airs in the moonlight,
and the stars were so much confetti
that took more than one lifetime to fall …

I blundered about, wondered where to sit;
I asked after you. My trunk was so heavy—
and can you believe the effort it took
to lift that enormous head? I cut a figure
in my tux—Madras, scarlet cummerbund—

but my ears, big as pup tents, or two ’40’s
hats, heard everything & gave me away …
I stood in the garden, munching the trees—
I had a case of nerves! When you emerged,
gowned in confetti, I felt like the roar

of the crowd in your ears like small bells—
I was everywhere with good intentions!
When I sat on the bench, how could I know
you’d flip up over me, into the shrubs?
And if I spoke of the mud bath—so cooling,

& a protection against flies—I was only
practicing the lost art of conversation.
I’d forgotten my index cards with the topics,
after all my years wandering the high grasses …
As I watched you limp back to the dance,

I vowed I’d become a gazebo for you, a bower!
Oh, anything to hold you in my arms …
My bleating stopped the music, signaled
everyone into the garden—so embarrassing!
But as they all honked into our presence,

I tell you, I felt like an elephant, seeing
the faces above the collars: lizard, goat, rhino.
Like a high school reunion you pass up,
or waking from a dream, admitting everything …
And you saw it, too—smiling, rubbing my trunk.

— James Cummins, author of Then & Now

On Anatomy and Physiology

I still remember just how you look
naked, the pale curve of your back,
the quiet inlet where it bends
to meet the taper of your waist,
shower water wending where it will
along the architecture of your form.

There may have been studies of a form
such as yours, that begged charges look
and chart the firm geography they will
find around each smooth surface and back—
from the ankle to knee and knee to waist—
while changing, adapting as the figure bends,

saying, Note where the wrist starts, thumb ends,
and how the hip tendons each transform.
And every student might attend to your waist
but neglect the collective, assembled look
produced by the bones in your neck and back,
how they form a straight line of poise and will.

Maybe what I saw when I saw you naked will
amount to what makes or breaks or bends
me. I caught your eye, and you glanced back.
You didn’t flinch or show the slightest form
of embarrassment. I remember the look—
a subtle nod and smile—you might waste

as if it were a familiar gaze, might waste
in calm, in nonchalance, in pure goodwill.
Or maybe this gaze is the way you look
into me, past the way my own body bends
to cover my soul, to hide and conform,
to be sure and have my own back—

to hold close and hold tight and hold back
like anxiety for being seen from the waist
down, naked, vulnerable, without form.
Maybe it won’t matter, and maybe it will;
but, having caught you so bared unbends
me, makes me measure, take another look

at my maudlin self—a cruel look to see my back
still bends wrong, my legs, trunk, hands—a waste
of time to contest if ever I will match your form.

—David K. Wheeler, author of Contingency Plans: Poems

This poem is a reprint from Every Day Poems.

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I still remember just how you look David Wheeler photo by LL Barkat

photo by L.L. Barkat

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