Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights;
the accumulations of a lifetime gather there.
– Jeanette Winterson, “Written on the Body”
One wish from halfway through my life:
to have met you years ago.
How we’d misused the time we’d lost,
in not knowing one another,
the waste of leaves we never turned,
or which turned on without us.
Now I wonder
how far back I’d have to go to be before,
which shifts might have remapped where we have ended,
or on which day I should have made it clearer
what those early pages meant.
I thought I’d said and thought you’d heard me.
But, later and sooner,
we caught the end of the countdown.
We’re both bastards now.
Reversed, neither of us might be proved to be the better.
And counted out, the drone of all our time
outwits the metronome.
My sense of a decade taps out at a year.
But what rises are the seconds, consistent slights,
a forward guard always in retreat
around a condemned lock.
No matter how far back I go,
the shadow stays ahead of me,
Into the sense of it,
I slow to the tempo of a waning heart
walled behind trellises, cosseted in brambles.
My lesson: Close the book. Tend
the cloistered leaves. Train the hedges
to a palisade fit for an anchorite.
Amid deciduous defenses, I admire the other lights,
not rescuers but torchbearers
whose illuminations strike the leaves,
interfering fringes stippling the path.
I might not mind discovery or dawn,
beacons I pursue instead of flee from,
specular reflections in emerald and jade
shielding me from the regret of hindsight.
Pieces laid out but not assembled,
lattices cut back,
the stroke of sun angles
to reveal the map, set off the saline trails,
primed to decipher what is written here.