Acupuncturist; Under the Needles

By | 1 July 1999

He’s rather soulful, someone said

Half-undressed, your hands crossed on your chest,
you might be lying in state
but you are now the calmest of short deaths
in a room that’s calming,
rectilinear, worn smooth by New Age silence.
Even the acupuncturist who
looks like a well-tanned ballet dancer but cannot
move a word without a minute
passing, then a stutter on each syllable, is
therefore, mostly silent.

You’re nearly naked, stripped down to knickers
and T-shirt. He watches you
then actually says,Yes, and slowly his fingers
move your T-shirt down
discrete as sewing, for the needle he must touch
between your breasts,
and one lift of your knickers for another needle
just above your mons.
They are a stranger’s fingers, and they touch
like slow attentions.
More, perhaps, because his face is long, voluptuary
from troubled speaking
and you never know the body’s own seductions
surrendering, or wary,
(one more in both your wrists, then ankles) each
time he touches you and
says you must relax, and not wanting this ambiguous
more than soulful.

Silence. The sunlight moves across your face.
I listen to your breath
and try to feel you lying in this portrait.The needles
shine on your body
like the stars shiver on the limbs of constellations.
The body, and the silent
expanding universe … Years seem to be passing
in this room of elementary
pin-ups: the diagrams of Chinese men like pink
blow-up dolls.
The lines as virtual as an introvert’s tattoos.
Your nerves perform
the finest calisthenics and the tiny needles seem
the inverse of idea …

But who knows? Perhaps, above, below, you are
all the hexagrams
rising and falling, the whole I Ching may be
passing through you
like currents in a lake, the surfaces which hint
at all the abstracts
but are mirrors: the trees, birds, the universe of clouds,
a fisherman at sundown
like old souls … as this man watches you, and me, his face
handsome as a magazine
but so serious, so … (Is the soul our favourite pastiche?)

I think of an old man
lying prone in another room, in another context
altogether—as each image
jabs him, remembering so much of a world that’s gone
he can’t remember us
but calls out to the figures filling into him, says
the order of the years
all wrong, the slowest acupuncture undoing him, his soul
under moonlight, in the sun. . .
We might be in another room, when I am old, and these
nerves from my father
blinking off in me, and as the nurse reaches down
to me like needles
you waiting there, as I am now, in the corner
watching silently.

Later, you tell me how you felt without your usual
points of reference,
wanting to make the process work, knowing you had
opened up your past,
some grief, he said, and hoping he was touching you like
just another patient
even as he struggled for his words, and even as his watching
was lingering too long,
I thought of my father, so late and very close to dying
and the no-nonsense
nurse shouting: G’day Mr Salom! Now toss back
ya medicine! Whey!

And my mother flinching. And all the diagrams undone.

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