for Judy

My sister, whom you write to still,
told me the news: the lump,
the biopsy, the doctor’s advice —
tempered, I’m sure, with hope
and a smile — and the gleaming
smile of the knife itself,
moving across and into you,
like a sharp nail, digging deep,
passionate and cruel,
the steel tip moving without
hesitation: what must be done
the only truth,
which flesh obeys —
as the nipple hardens
under the tongue,
as the whole breast
fills with milk,
as the body itself
with pleasure, or pain,
sways to its commandment,
dances out over the long day,
and lies down with the night.

Like stone we are,
like water.

Like the young girl giggling
at the boy’s sideways glance,
his secret devotion,
his unconquered shame.
Like the wife with arms
crossed angrily,
denying her husband
the gate to peace, the way.
Like the soft head of the baby
on the chest heavy with love.

We are the body,
and what the body longs for.

We step toward each other
and our lives are lengthened.
Every cell in us rejoices
when our true name is called.
Yet we lie.
We lock the only door.
Then we pray for the door
to open!
We weep and tear our hair.
We search through our pockets
for the key.
We look in the eyes
of the one beside us.

The body cannot stand it.
From the head to the toes
there is sorrow and shame.
The body knows just when
we left and the ghost

To be an unloved, haunted
house — this the body despises.
The way the man and the woman,
long separated,
want each other now,
is how the body wants us:
willing to do anything for love.

How shy you were at first!
Afraid I’d see you naked!
Other marriages, children,
different towns and faiths
clothe us now. The days
thread into years,
the years into a life,
which we gather like a robe
around us,
and can’t bear to take off,
and yearn to take off.
How much we endure
before the robe falls at our feet.