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————-—I grant sometime that of glory the fire / Doth twyche my heart.

Dear Tom,
———When I was young, perhaps devout,
a kindly seeming priest warned me against
desire, blaze of willing sin. Starve, he said,
attraction’s fever, fill your mouth with prayer
instead. But I was hungry for a taste
of more than air, and—wanton ever since—
I hunger still, sin and sin again, sin
in setting clever snares for my restless
coveting, sin against the objects caught
therein, sin by stalking these waking nights,
sin when I whet my secret silver knife.
Dear fellow hunter, which practiced arrow
would you choose to hold off my pursuit?
Pointed barb, rough touch in the dark, a quill
quivering to yield? Come, sir—you need not
flee from me, though long I’ve been presumed game
for the chase. True, I cannot speak and look
like a saint, so I’ll keep faith between us:
while I find the cool of your riverine
gaze a seeking I would answer, I turn
from your looks (on loan, saved by Holbein’s hand)
unsinged, chaste. I cannot burn to unlace
your doublet, though doubtless fine as the flesh
concealed within—because I ache to thieve
an eyeful of your words to call my own.
I trust you will not blush, or sneer, or rate
my naked longing loathsome? We both know
need’s just a flounce to tear off a bad dress,
a placket to unfasten; but desire—
desire is pleasure’s penance made before
confession. Chastened, stripped apostate-bare,
I want desire’s lash, a lavish sentence
with time alone to learn its scorching tongue.
(Only say the words and I shall be—)
But silence delivers the cold decree:
the tower keep, no release or relief,
no prayer but the moss, green flame among stones.



Carolyn Oliver is the author of The Alcestis Machine (Acre, forthcoming) and Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble (Utah), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. She lives in Massachusetts.




Photo by Ramez E. Nassif on Unsplash

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