Don Paterson (1963 - / Dundee / Scotland)
It’s not the lover that we love, but love
itself, love as in nothing, as in O;
love is the lover’s coin, a coin of no country,
hence: the ring; hence: the moon—
no wonder that empty circle so often figures
in our intimate dark, our skin-trade,
that commerce so furious we often think
love’s something we share; but we’re always wrong.
When our lover mercifully departs
and lets us get back to the business of love again,
either we’ll slip it inside us like the host
or we’ll beat its gibbous drum that the whole world
might know who has it. Which was always more my style:
O the moon’s a bodhran, a skin gong
torn from the hide of Capricorn,
and many’s the time I’d lift it from its high peg,
grip it to my side, tight as a gun,
and whip the life out of it, just for the joy
of that huge heart under my ribs again.
A thousand blows I showered like meteors
down on that sweet-spot over Mare Imbrium
where I could make it sing its name, over and over.
While I have the moon, I cried, no ship will sink,
or woman bleed, or man lose his mind—
but truth told, I was terrible:
the idiot at the session spoiling it,
as they say, for everyone.
O kings petitioned me to pack it in.
The last time, I peeled off my shirt
and found a coffee bruise that ran from hip to wrist.
Two years passed before a soul could touch me.
Even in its lowest coin, it kills us to keep love,
kills us to give it away. All of which
brings us to Camille Flammarion,
signing the flyleaf of his Terres du Ciel
for a girl down from the sanatorium,
and his remark—the one he couldn’t help but make—
on the gorgeous candid pallor of her shoulders;
then two years later, unwrapping the same book
reinscribed in her clear hand, with my love,
and bound in her own lunar vellum.
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