Leaving the Ceremony
I walked farther down the streets
than I meant to go. It was too late
at night to roam that neighborhood.
From the only lit windows, a girl,
fourteen or fifteen, looked out
at me, held up a pair of scissors.
She was wearing a halter top.
She pointed the tip of the scissors
at one nipple, then the other.
She raised the blades above her head
and flexed them slowly, cutting
the humid air into streamers
that flowed down her arm and over
her shoulder to a bare midriff
framed by the sill of the window.
She lifted her other hand to show me.
There was a circle of red on the palm.
I thought of blood vows, of steeped
Wine, of the stigmata. The only way
she could satisfy me further
would be to switch off the room’s light
and let the darkness imprint me.
Instead, she curled back the edge
of her skin with scissors’ tip
as if she were opening a manual
of prayer to that day’s worship.
I could only attend to what was there,
a eulogy for the imagination that folds
itself into prime little patches of ritual.
I had to either marry her or leave.
I turned and went back up the streets
to where I was meeting my wife
and everyone else after the services.
I summoned flies from the stables
to follow me around,
a buzzing cloud that flirted
with every stray scent
to come down the alleys.
It was a plague year
and I needed protection
from the rumors
that I had a secret ointment
to seal the body’s cracks
against this particular death.
I had the lotion all right,
but not enough
to soothe the entire population
of London, settle them down
like children at bedtime.
There was no one I loved,
no one I owed.
The ointment I rubbed on myself
was my future, the slow
decades it would take
for my flesh to dry completely,
flake off in the grave.
The flies were a curtain
dropped between me
and the corpses in the street,
between me and the live
ones, theirs boils heavy
with dark veins, their limbs
unable to stop dancing.