A Maiden

When I found your face on a pillow of leaves
you had already erased it. A nest so heavy
can stay in the heavens only by reversal.
By this law the knees are laced with abandon.
I said to the young man.
If watching is the manufacturer, and I lose you
what angel takes the place of a dowry
or distance in this leaf action?
Subject to like passions as we are
my soul herself, myself
a possession I could not
mistake for the man
(his language and Latin)
yet we are “taken to”
a love passage
I had hardly noticed
in the late talk of money
The work of love and the work of art
has no sleeping part
Is a drop of light
in a small silver socket,
a rosy dime
in a daylight tryst
Is a keeper and no spender
As seeing who is invisible:
a kind of flaxen thing
caught in stone
I obeyed and read further
“I am hemmed”
Though my heart were a pear tree
threaded with fire
Lion you leapt through me
like fineness in the boundary gene
Conductor you knit me
as isthmus     Can I touch it
Night is going 200 miles an hr
as usual     In this way we find
we are suddenly altered
If I were a day would you
like me better     Where were you
you who in a bath changed me
How to be walking
is a glorious porthole
Must I insist on an absence
more foolish and secret
When your timber’s a forest
I can’t see for the tree in my bed
Gentle captive, it is
a larger than murder
we tender     Fond and afire
my style and my anchor
Master there’s a boat for no
lesser completion than
beauty’s sweetest dress
when you look on me kind
Who am I to stop this flowing
Least of all that home mile
Sinking in the real
I dreamed there was a further island
Perhaps (how I thought you)
to salt that harness with pleasure
Lovely hero where the lovely hero bounds
an acre hidden between eros and its errors
Finding a dozen darts beneath the skin of
Watching the wire of a skinny flame
No other lovely hero found the back
behind her secret form of symmetry
Her gleaming difference
Her schoolish way in pretty understandings
Said   Not done   Not said   Undone
Wealthy sadness has a way of winning everyone
This is the end of my body as you know it
its superfluous penchant for love
its poorer costume, its shiny disaster
What is a maiden,
but a fiery lair
and a teary citadel
By the smallest shipwreck
a daughter is laughter
Yet equaled
                         as in a fable
this Gibraltar goes headlong
in a just king’s love
See how his hands
are her mercy
and measure
her number and rescue
O Perseus
my Pierre
What rules a body’s buried factions
when laundered by morning
When called by our names
although we are invisible
Sleeping I forget my animal
When the animal comes
I’m forgotten because of it
How was it called
in its own country
crossing a street
in order to come inside

Elizabeth Willis, "A Maiden" from The Human Abstract.  Copyright © 1995 by Elizabeth Willis.  Reprinted by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Source: Alive: New and Selected Poems (New York Review Books, 2015)
More Poems by Elizabeth Willis