Poetry / May 2009 (Issue 7)

My Last Yankee

by Reid Mitchell

For E. B.

Why shouldn't I fall in love with you again
my last Yankee? That Puritan hair,
brown and coarse, the beach rimmed with stone,
the geegaws of the coastal trade, the lingering illness,
the icehouse, the fish bones, the handkerchief made wet
with lavender water pressed to bright temples
by dark fingers, the cries of gulls and dancers,
the awakening.

The awakening into warmth unlooked for–
no, warmth sought in despair and therefore
more unexpected. Not now.
Always further south. Not then.

And then, now: the sea just at body heat
which breeds a languor as long as the equator.
A hothouse without glass. Flowers
bloom as large as sago palms.
The world has more than one mouth.

There will be so little you bring back safe.
But you will be recognized for one art,
Elizabeth, rendering all things here and lost.
The sea flows between south and north
as it desires, as ice, water, vapor, salt,
and you will build your houses
always where you can smell the brine.

Small deadly things live in the tropics,
unlike your north where cold death
lumbers and doesn't bother herself
with beautiful poisons.
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