How did the gods make skin waterproof, asks my lover

By | 5 December 2019

London, August 30th, 2019

Her beauty blotted out the screech of metal on wheels, trains in the anxious
depths, big city loudness. Tattoos— on joints, a cryptic symbol
or ten. On calf, a dragon exhaling.
Clavicle: the spread wings of heart.
Stomach: a spider web. Bicep: lions roaring. Thigh: leaves rustling.
She sat across from me, staring at her phone.
I counted the decisions in her skin.

What would you tattoo on your wrist if your life depended on it?
How would you speak of terror, using ink on your bones?

Exposed skin, big city freedom, dirt on every pulsating surface.
From planes to rough fabric seats of the masses,
to the sticky hand prints on mottled chrome.
Skin, with illustrations, almost a comic book of all she feared,
a drawing pad for the love she held on to.
I had nothing to read on the train, and a beautiful woman lent me her body.

What events did I casually imprint on mine?
When kissed, did the vocabulary of Damascus evenings cascade out into the lungs?
When groped, penetrated, smacked, shoved, aroused, bitten,
biting, clawing, holding, held—
did the lines assemble into a poem that stayed with the lover?
What have I uttered naked to the man who also loved Palestine?

Did my knuckles bring back a plot of stolen land? Perhaps
a willow tree swaying, the hum of his grandmother, smoking.
The panting dog, barking at the clouds.

We keep the cells of all those we loved in us.
Write, write onto your sinew the ballad you have been keening,
bring with it the dragons you wished lived
in your breasts. In your mother’s breasts.
Write on creases into which we shove truth.

The girl left the train as quickly as I noticed her.
Took no time then all of it at once. Slanted sharp blue eyes,
wispy brown long hair, the waist of a woman on the run,
in this city where no one sees us.
I see you, dragon woman with lace and limb, black and blue.
Not cold, not nervous, not worried about the drawings on your frame
or the wrapped up woman reading them.

Everything I have been taught about the trueness of love, I learnt only
in big cities. New York first, then the memory of parks in Damascus,
then the summer jostle of London flesh.

The commuting, ambling bodies of multitudes, elbowing through the stale air.
The shape of it all— fat and hair and nail polish.
Newspapers and burgers. Makeup mirrors, and the disgusted itching.
Stumbling ankles, pregnant bellies. The older woman with veined hands,
a huge diamond on the inner thigh of another. The leaning in,
the lips with gloss, recklessly giggling.
The boys with dirty hair, the girls with
none, pierced, bejeweled, entwined in drunken solace.
The small gestures of thumb and toe.
The black and the brown beauties, all frayed shoes and high
heeled madness, all crushed into a jigsaw of lust.
How tender, the tip of a finger on a forehead, sweating and scarred.
The man with his arm around the
wheelchair, the little girl gently kicking
the boy’s foot in rhythm, a dance of train stops and starts.

I have loved the sagging and the surging, the uplifted
hairdo and the invisible eyes behind shades,
the beards, the breasts, the booty.
Loved luscious skinny pale androgyny in the arms
of holographic lovers, all sucking on liquids and the damp heat.

I have learnt about love from big cities, big rides.
These bodies making more bodies from the harbored rocking,
from cramped beds to the salty sea waves.

What I knew of desire in those old cities where we hid, is now small, is wrong.
Here, in the grim capital of capital, bodies
have wrenched themselves from our gavels.
Flown across the aisle of the silver tube to fondle one another.

The skin of a stranger girl drawn into tapestry,
another way to remember my own, changing
into a rounder version of its youth.
How the body fails and snaps.

Listen to the announcement:

A fire on the tracks, another burnt body struck,
the dictionary of a jumping person buried.

The trains will move with childlike zest, oblivious
to the trembling in our stomachs, to the symbols on our hands.

Still, the world knows what to do with this love on display,
harnessing it as it does to the passing afternoons of this woman
traveling, with a dozen homes to return to.

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