An astringent person

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Then Time
Robert Hass
In winter, in a small room, a man and a woman
Have been making love for hours. Exhausted,
Very busy wringing out each other’s bodies,
They look at one another suddenly and laugh.
“What is this?” he says. “I can’t get enough of you,”
She says, a woman who thinks of herself as not given
To cliché. She runs her fingers across his chest,
Tentative touches, as if she were testing her wonder.
He says, “Me too.” And she, beginning to be herself
Again, “You mean you can’t get enough of you either?”
“I mean,” he takes her arms in his hands and shakes them,
“Where does this come from?” She cocks her head
And looks into his face. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes,” he says. “Self-hatred,” she says. “Longing for God.”
Kisses him again. “It’s not what it is,” a wry shrug,
“It’s where it comes from.” Kisses his bruised mouth
A second time, a third. Years later, in another city,
They’re having dinner in a quiet restaurant near a park.
Fall. Earlier that day, hard rain: leaves, brass-colored
And smoky-crimson, flying everywhere. Twenty years older,
She is very beautiful. An astringent person. She’d become,
She said, an obsessive gardener, her daughters grown.
He’s trying not to be overwhelmed by love or pity
Because he sees she has no hands. He thinks
She must have given them away. He imagines,
Very clearly, how she wakes some mornings,
(He has a vivid memory of her younger self, stirred
From sleep, flushed, just opening her eyes)
To momentary horror because she can’t remember
What she did with them, why they were gone,
And then remembers, calms herself, so that the day
Takes on its customary sequence again.
She asks him if he thinks about her. “Occasionally,”
He says, smiling. “And you?” “Not much,” she says,
“I think it’s because we never existed inside time.”
He studies her long fingers, a pianist’s hands,
Or a gardener’s, strong, much-used, as she fiddles
With her wineglass and he understands, vaguely,
That it must be his hands that are gone. Then
He’s describing a meeting that he’d sat in all day,
Chaired by someone they’d felt, many years before,
Mutually superior to. “You know the expression
‘A perfect fool,'” she’d said, and he has liked her tone
of voice so much. She begins a story of the company
In Maine she orders bulbs from, begun by a Polish refugee
Married to a French-Canadian separatist from Quebec.
It’s a story with many surprising turns and a rare
Chocolate-black lily at the end. He’s listening,
Studying her face, still turning over her remark.
He decides that she thinks more symbolically
Than he does and that it seemed to have saved her,
For all her fatalism, from certain kinds of pain.
She finds herself thinking what a literal man he is,
Notices, as if she were recalling it, his pleasure
In the menu, and the cooking, and the architecture of the room.
It moves her – in the way that earnest limitation
Can be moving, and she is moved by her attraction to him.
Also by what he was to her. She sees her own avidity
To live then, or not to not have lived might be more accurate,
From a distance, the way a driver might see from the road
A startled deer running across an open field in the rain.
Wild thing. Here and gone. Death made it poignant, or,
If not death exactly, which she’d come to think of
As creatures seething in a compost heap, then time.

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