You, As Orlando
Of course Queen Elizabeth would have loved
you as you handed her rosewater. Only you
would have questioned so much, changed
her. You wouldn’t have liked being a man,
but at the time that’d be all you’d ever
known. You’d find peace in the way a woman
could feel body and beyond body
with such distinction.
You have been gone for one year,
and I notice Orlando is on your shelf.
On some days you ask me to redefine
time, and I try to. If you are Vita, and if I am
Virginia, I will immortalize you,
over 300 years old, as one who is
impossible, yet here, body pressed
to the ground in Victorian dress, declaring
your love for the way we were made, underneath
tradition, or leaping to solid ground
in trousers as the frozen river melts, saving
yourself from drowning.
You died in your sleep at 32, but you were hundreds
of years old. You remind me so much of Orlando: Your
longing for love, the way you could live
fifty years in two, the way you’d read
and read and read, entering new
worlds, returning to this one, always
returning to this one; and I tell myself
this now, one year after your death, as I
touch your t-shirt, that you will always
return to this world, always this world.
The Way We Say Mane, and the Way We Walk to a Funeral (Impossible River)
I step onto hot concrete and picture desert snow. My feet
go from bare to covered, and you are there, just like
you were when you were alive, all smooth skin and
excitement, waving to me with a painting in your hand.
Then a horse runs to me, and I kiss its yellow fur. You say
you sent it, that I have one task now: To make a ladder
from its palomino mane, to bring it to the desert’s
oldest home. When your funeral bells ring, it will
be time. And of course, they did ring. And yes,
my hands knew how to make the ladder, and no,
I was not surprised. If there was one thing you taught
me, it’s this: How to build something purposeful.
When concrete burns my feet, I will mistake
a frayed tarp for that mane I gathered, and I will
confuse the rush of cars for an impossible river.
An unbearable angel once told me that my body
would remain incomplete on pavement, but you
were not like that. Something inside you loved
that old city, its museums, its red lights. Whatever
it is I feel in vast landscape, you felt there, surrounded
by canals and bricks, alleyways like secret gifts.
We were both time travelers, you and I. Your hand
pressed to an ancient cathedral that was once a wish,
and mine, to a mountain that was once underground.
We walk to a funeral like the cathedral and mountain
emerge: with purpose. We climb the ladder
as a painter would build a scene: One swan1,
wings wide, understanding its threat
is nothing compared to its will to be
1 “The Threatened Swan” by Jan Asselijn, c. 1650