My Wife’s Back
All naked but for a strap, it traps my gaze
As we paddle: the dear familiar nubs
Of spine-bone punctuating that sun-warmed swath,
The slender muscles that trouble the same sweet surface.
We’ve watched and smiled as green herons flushed
And hopped ahead at every bend, and we’ve looked up
At a redtail tracing open script on a sky
So clear and deep we might believe
It’s autumn, no matter it’s August still. Another fall
Will be on us before we know it. Of course we adore
That commotion of color, but it seems to come
Again as soon as it’s gone away. They all do now.
We’re neither young anymore, to put matters plainly.
My love for you over thirty years
Extends in all directions, but now to your back as we drift
And paddle down the tranquil Connecticut River.
We’ve seen a mink scratch fleas on a mudflat.
We’ve seen an osprey start to dive but seeing us,
Think better of it. Two phoebes wagged on an ash limb.
Your torso is long. I can’t see your legs
But they’re longer, I know. Phoebe, osprey, heron, hawk:
Marvels under Black Mountain, but I am fixed
On your back, indifferent to other wonders:
Bright minnows that flared in the shallows,
the gleam off that poor mink’s coat,
even the fleas in its fur, the various birds
–the lust of creatures just to survive.
But I watch your back. Never have I wished more not to die.
by Sydney Lea
Editor’s Note: The sharp longing of the last line focuses the clear imagery of this poem into a difficult realization that any reader who loves and has loved will understand.