Instructions for Making Love to a Goddess
Prepare for months before entering her
chamber: fast, do body work, drink pure
fruit juices. This is an altar, so be humble
or be humiliated by her shriveling pranks.
She knows what takes you to your knees.
Wait until she unties her hair before you
unbutton her blouse. Did you remember
to consecrate the encounter with a gift?
Listen with your hands. Scan her body for
parts too long untouched. Stay in the space
between total surrender and discipline.
Don’t be scared to ask her what feels good.
When she laughs, you will stagger, drunk.
The music her body makes sounds like
the world’s oldest hatreds and freshest
healings, waking the dead from trance.
As for speed, interpret your instructions
from the river. Be as intimate as food
in fire. With the ache of birthing, repeat
her name aloud as a mantra. If you’ve
gotten this far, your life has changed
shape and you awake in a country
where judges, sheiks and rabbis, even
dollars have no authority. The poem
you write must stand on its own. Yet,
you cannot sit for long after light breaks
your being. Here, you master patience.
Like a boat tethered to a pier, you are
tied to this dance the length
of her infinite satisfaction.
I.          When you see the wet hair and swimming-
toned torso the way of water no longer
makes sense. One glance and sailors
moan for shipwreck. Most desire drowning,
yet I would live to discover a new land
on my native shore.
When the fever beads
dried I could not explain how a mermaid
blew the grace of breath into me, how she
lulled me to sleep with her underwater laugh.
I blinked. She lay in my bed. Her shapely,
human legs wrapped around my body
like a wave. She laughed the same laugh,
explained “I survived the molting by licking
dried saltwater off your beard.” I was shaved
II.                                This legend. This acorn. This story—
a seed in a hard shell. One nibble on the neck
and the shell cracks open. A kiss and a single
green sprout announces its birth. Another
nibble and rings grow inside the oak.
III.           I wake up walking an old growth forest trail.
I pause to get grounded. I know this place,
its idioms and shapes know me. If this is the land
of love, may I learn its language and taste
homecoming in its tongue? If this is the land
of the living, I could die almost satisfied.
Leave Your Longing Open
My children, here is a secret
that cannot sit still. Your father
is a collection of ecstatic particles
held with great gobs of glue, called
love. One foot dances in another
stream of conversation that travels
faster than light. I have been alone
so long in the televised world,
breaking acorn shells so oak roots
can sabotage the satellites’ signals
and leaves can grow through the
slight crack of your smart phone
to remind you how to listen. Slow
down and leave your longing open.
Shadows on the Cave Wall
When they took off the blindfold I saw
all I would embrace years from then. Fear
engenders fantasy, and stories get told for
lesser purposes of help or healing, so I noticed
only the darker ones twirling. A door that really
wasn’t there was locked with lead. The dark robes
danced and their masks looked like my neighbors—
lawyers, merger-and-acquisition matchmakers, ex
in-laws, smirks of those seduced and those who seduced,
falling faces caught in compromises that cost almost as much as
peak performance, future mistakes I could not learn from
before kissing you. Shaking at the mouth of the cave, all
the lies I ever told paraded in the shadow the fire casts. My life
followed this snake of sound where the flute chased the strings
around the meandering drum beats. Dark from five days rain,
I did not know what I might back into, but it was better
than stammering at a threshold I was not ready
to cross. I backed into a brook and drowned.
Reborn by mouth-to-mouth breath,
so little separates us from living.
Let’s Go Say Hi to the River
Our footprints may take the wind
a few days to mend. The mud slows
down our pace because life takes off
faster here and you must trudge to soak
it in. O lover, spread our blanket. Let me
fall before I slide down the bank. If you
listen, you can hear the waterlogged souls
who drowned nearby and the warbled,
falsetto howls of the teenager hanging
from the old train bridge by one arm.
Behind us two people married, but not
to each another, grope in frenzy as if
speed enhances bliss. Here, by the oak
with a face in its bark, you and I move
with the understanding the river has
with the land that cradles it; its soil
enriched by the same flowing waters.
Life abounds where the Mississippi bends.
The sun turns our flesh pink, another lesson
where a little heals but too much might
be dangerous. We kiss and the river responds.
Its current pours through us. In the rush
the earth asks us to exchange vows.
We accept. The river melds our names,
our blood, our tribes. To pay creation’s
priest for the ceremony, we offer our lives.
Deal, echoes the woods, now abandon your plans,
risk everything to sing the song you just heard.
Michael Graber is the author of The Last Real Medicine Show. Since September 11th, 2001 he has chosen to write only love poetry. Graber runs the Southern Growth Studio, lives in Oxford, MS, and plays mandolin with the Memphis band, the Bluff City Backsliders.