The Mottled Portion, David Appelbaum

Dale Champlin, Yellow Madonna, Collage, 2021

The Mottled Portion


I saved this one for last.

Love is a perquisite to my story.
It came in drips and left in droves.
It was brief, it was long
like snow sighing over branches
the air full of secrets
down cliff-side to the lake
to the deepenings themselves
the edge of night where it waits.

There was a room.
I understand why this is always so
if only as a stale idiom.

We sat in the kitchen cracking chestnuts.
Wine from old-world root-stock
whose skins drop languidly with the pulp
in glasses all the way from China.
Beeswax candle spills onto the table.

I didn’t know the language.
How do words hold onto things?
When does light really become something?

What is a shibboleth?

Her look fell onto me and stained
the morning news like pollen from wisteria.

Perhaps words then came from roots
beyond my farthest travels
invisible save to tiny vague animals
that scurry from the hazards.
(There are as many as unplayed desires.)

Why have I come here? I asked her.
I am so easily crushed.

Children gathered outside silent, bewildered.
News of love had brought tears
which they thought the Emperor would wipe away.

Perhaps they were tears of betrayal,
suchlike are often found together with love.
Bitter, sweet, we did not love one another
as Tristan and Iseult did.
How much simpler if we had.

She watched rain wet the studio roof.
Waiting coiled inside her, waiting for me
to say which rule to obey.

There were no laws of seduction.

My brother who died young said
a ship passes, there is the wake and some spray,
and then it disappears.

It isn’t quite true. While the mark
in water is temporal, memory persists.
I mean it glorifies
the body removed, the cave empty:
that is the revelation itself.

There then were omens. [Omen,
From oiomai, I believe, related to
audire, to hear.]

Phone dead on the other end,
unmailed letters, unopened letters,
letters to me that weren’t for me,
lists that made no sense
[massage oil roses anise candy]
bedclothes in the washing machine
car keys strangely displaced.

But I meander. Proof didn’t exist.
One day the whole thing fell apart
like a crossword puzzle
when one word unlocks the deal,
a small word like the indefinite article.

It was the sense that most demoralizes.
Not a good password.

That’s how it happened; hope was remade.
The power of the unexplained.

To make a deal with the devil
is not a crime but love’s story.

What a beautiful word.

David Appelbaum

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