Scenes from the Film Cafune
First slap of hot water on his back,
aerial shot of a river delta. No a painting,
she tilts her head—is it finished? A river delta,
her watercolors drying, paint tadpoling
through the clear jar of water, her bare feet—
biting a hangnail he steps out of the shower,
wraps a towel around his waist. He hears
her walking, rinsing brushes in the sink,
she pushes paint out, out, out a rainbow down the drain.
Earlier, in bed, her lover’s red lips over the raspberry—
we see her see it—he’s tugging a hairband
from her head—he thinks she’s asleep—
she sees a kiss kissing a kiss, red on red,
he reads the strands of hair spreading
them like dark tea across her pillow.
She is trying to capture memory:
below the shower’s steamy cape,
his back a river delta, rivulets ragged
in the faint patch of hair on his lower back
that place the size of her open palm.
Clattering string of seashells, an open window,
shallow diamond formed beneath her ribs,
her lover’s shadow hanging across her body
like a thin nightgown. She squints.
It’s unclear whether she raises her arms
to pull the lover to her / block the light….
A rainstorm. One woman shakes an umbrella out
in the foyer, one checks the mail, their laughter—
what did they laugh about?—the bare bulb
above their heads swaying like a sad, strung up moon.
Her neighbors’ shouting, so they eavesdropped,
but drunk, climbed the stairs, laughing, laughing, laughing
what did they laugh about? Then the soft thimble
of a raspberry on her finger, her lips, their lips,
a phone rings but their bodies ignore it, ignore
his voice on the machine like a prayer at least
the same three notes. His hands on the piano,
trying to remember. She’s added yellow to the painting,
bites the brush tip. He knows what she drew
in the sand that night. That’s why he holds
her wrists while they make love why she
resists, enjoys resisting—
He’s found out. She blames the umbrella,
he blames the pearl of her nipple under a thin shirt.
He finds her. He uses the painting as a map.
He confronts his lover’s lover. She begins with silence.
He begins by saying a name.
The woman pulls her hair into a bun, folds her arms.
No, no, no her head shakes its one sad note.
He says the name again, she says my sister
knew someone once by that name.
She takes her hair out of the bun, snaps the band
onto her wrist. No, no, no his head rings the same
three notes the geese squall as they rope across the lake,
across the silvery blanket of moonlight that night
she said no one no one again and again, staring
at the full moon. They walked back hand-in-hand
slim darknesses in a larger darkness.
That night she began the painting, wanting to see
what geese saw; he poured champagne, held
the flute to his eye; through it
he saw her standing at the canvas,
bubbles skimming her body, he told her she looked
like she was drowning. It’s the least, she thinks,
taping a letter to the back of the painting.
The way she said no one no one that night,
of course he thought she was thinking more than
a magic spell of a woman’s hips how she
feels like champagne in the flute of her lover’s hands
which she binds with lace now to the bedpost
those palms two amaryllis blossoms it’s not that
he wants to think the painting on his doorstep
a love letter, the width between her mouth
and her mouth his mouth a sad O it’s not…
he runs his fingers through his hair
her hair pooling over her lover’s face, her lover’s
hands opening and closing, strange flowers,
responsive to a different sun, blue lace
in his hands, he unties the paper casing the canvas
he leaves the painting on the doorstep
it’s raining again, she says, she says back I know.
We go out to the winter field,
taking turns smothering the earth
with our bodies. Our soupy breath
warming it only to crack it with our shovels.
You are here because I asked you.
And we both know we will find nothing.
Though the wind steals every phrase,
though talk will only slow us down,
I want to tell you every story
I know about this field—beans
my father and I walked, first boy I kissed
pulling me deep into the cornstalks.
Bee swarm so large and loud, from the house
we swore a dark hail poured here—the field
fallow then, scrubby with weeds.
Each spring turned up a new haul of arrowheads.
But how can you understand?
To you, to anyone, it is just a field.
We keep digging. We dig for my cousin’s horse,
my grandparents’ ashes, library books
my great-grandparents never returned.
We are digging a hole for winter.
It would be enough, I tell myself,
to find the thighbone of that forgotten horse,
though what I want is my great-grandmother’s
first edition of My Antonia, worm-riven,
my favorite passage surviving,
marked in my great-grandmother’s hand.
I read in an advice column it’s better
to think long love like small rivers
feeding larger ones, to think in terms
of growth and current, not those of fire.
Fire makes its own terms, of course,
then burns them. We know that.
But since we spend our lives cradled
in ourselves, this bedding
from which we never wake,
it aches to be told no;
we can’t oxidize, braid with flame.
We can only hope for sparks,
cinders, liminal heat
extinguished in river upon river.
Each evening, after dinner, if weather allows,
my love and I walk. Beyond the catalpas,
below the eroded ridge, Lake Michigan
spreads like a blanket across restless sleepers.
We rarely see it though we feel its wintry hands
even in summer beckon like we’re sailors
and it’s the ocean’s proxy. Close enough, she croons.
We take the route without thinking, a loop
with parts we never fail to admire: ornate lawn
with its pointer running laps between stone hippos;
bungalow nested behind a pine;
collie who pops its head above the fence
ten seconds after we pass to let us know she knows.
There is no talk of revision.
We’ve moved twice and built such a walk
each time without consultation of maps,
only in the going, and I guess
this is our way of being a river.
Water, it seems, makes few consultations.
Land seems made to comply.
At times our voices rise and fall
like leaves or birds and once we saw
a skunk, once a rabbit, once a hawk clasping
a small, indistinguishable rodent;
my love might complain my poems
are too slow, that he remains nameless
in them, and I might sigh about the future
and make illogical remarks on the art
of friendship; and no one will speak with us;
and no one will recognize the circle
we draw except perhaps a stubborn cloud
nestled in our suburban trees for weeks,
a wedding veil, a sieve; a cloud
with little to do and a mind for observation.
Dear Advice Columnist, what say you?
I see you shrug. I had hoped
to make an argument for spark,
to say the walk carries us in the door
and drops our clothes through the hallway.
Say the bed is always warm. Say our bodies
turn to silk. Say we never cough or laugh,
say I could translate the strange colors
of orgasm. Say this is how it always ends—
but it doesn’t. Often we sit in front of the TV.
Often I forget to look at him like he’s a lake
wanting to be ocean and I’m a sailor sick of land.
I haven’t learned anything about love
from your column. I have, however, learned about rivers.
Sometimes their ways are dull; sometimes thrilling;
sometimes they wear night like a jacket
only rain and moonlight can unbutton.
Encomium for a Peace Lily
Praise the cobra-hooded spathe,
white as new tooth,
and sunlight through organdy.
Spathe: end of a child’s shovel,
boated leaf on a still pond.
Gloved hand open to hold wedding rice,
wedding white spathe the color of my grandmother’s hair.
In the chevron of your waxed leaves
is written: an old woman watered me.
When she said my name, a thousand butterscotches melted on her tongue.
Praise the spadix, slender tube
of knotted yellow thread,
teethed-over cob of corn,
miniature spruce, pollen-flecked,
spadix of wasp breath, slim hive,
slight beneath the sloped palm of the spathe;
how daring your hope to eradicate toxins from air,
cure our sick buildings,
Remember the hand that once clipped
your dry leaves, woman who watched
for root rot, who tipped the watering can—
Caress the light passing through
the many flags of your body.
Amie Whittemore earned her MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, The Hollins Critic, Sycamore Review, Cimarron Review, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere. She was a finalist in the 2011 Ruth Lilly Fellowship contest and received a fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center in July 2011. Currently, she works as a Tutoring Center Coördinator for University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, WI.