Love at Thirty-two Degrees

By Katherine Larson Katherine Larson

Today I dissected a squid,
the late acacia tossing its pollen
across the black of the lab bench.
In a few months the maples   
will be bleeding. That was the thing:   
there was no blood
only textures of gills creased like satin,   
suction cups as planets in rows. Be careful
not to cut your finger, he says. But I’m thinking
of fingertips on my lover’s neck   
last June. Amazing, hearts.
This brachial heart. After class,
I stole one from the formaldehyde
& watched it bloom in my bathroom sink
between cubes of ice.


Last night I threw my lab coat in the fire   
& drove all night through the Arizona desert   
with a thermos full of silver tequila.

It was the last of what we bought   
on our way back from Guadalajara—
desert wind in the mouth, your mother’s   
beat-up Honda, agaves   
twisting up from the soil
like the limbs of cephalopods.

Outside of Tucson, saguaros so lovely
considering the cold, & the fact that you   
weren’t there to warm me.
Suddenly drunk I was shouting that I wanted to see the stars   
as my ancestors used to see them—

to see the godawful blue as Aurvandil’s frostbitten toe.


Then, there is the astronomer’s wife   
ascending stairs to her bed.

The astronomer gazes out,   
one eye at a time,

to a sky that expands   
even as it falls apart

like a paper boat dissolving in bilge.
Furious, fuming stars.

When his migraine builds &
lodges its dark anchor behind

the eyes, he fastens the wooden buttons
of his jacket, & walks

outside with a flashlight
to keep company with the barn owl   

who stares back at him with eyes
that are no greater or less than

a spiral galaxy.
The snow outside

is white & quiet
as a woman’s slip

against cracked floorboards.
So he walks to the house

inflamed by moonlight, & slips
into the bed with his wife   

her hair & arms all
in disarray

like fish confused by waves.



beyond pheromones, hormones, aesthetics of bone,
every time I make love for love’s sake alone,

I betray you.

Katherine Larson, “Love at Thirty-two Degrees,” from Poetry (March 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Larson.

Source: Poetry (March 2006).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of Poetry magazine

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March 2006
 Katherine  Larson


Katherine Larson is the author of Radial Symmetry (2011), selected by Louise Glück as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. She holds degrees from The University of Arizona and the University of Virginia. In addition to writing, she has worked as a molecular biologist and field ecologist.
In her introduction to Radial Symmetry, Louise Glück writes, “Larson’s repose is also a quivering suspension, in which multiple . . .

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Poems by Katherine Larson

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Nature, Activities, Landscapes & Pastorals, Love, School & Learning, Sciences, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Imagery, Mixed

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