The Strangers

Jorie Graham

The hand I placed on you, what if it
didn’t exist, where it began, shaking, the declension of
your opening shirt, dusk postponed in each glazed and arctic
button, pale reddish shirt—what if it doesn’t
exist—these fingers browsing the cotton surface, swimming in the steadfast
what if there’s no place it can exist
this looking for a place to lie down in,
to make a tiny civilization—
here between the moss and long corridors of afternoon-light—
between the exaggerations of the ornamental yews
laying themselves in day’s slow caress across the brick apartment
nothing voracious, nothing groping to make a plan find a place,
one of us against a tree now, one of us like a shadow
over water, one of us begging, one of us taking
thinking, rethinking,
between Wednesday and Thursday,
what if it doesn’t exist, the place
where this hand lay flat for the first time
against your heart, cotton-denim and flesh
to take it forever, first-fruit, from its limb,
tongue-tied, a door slamming, cars stalled-out at the traffic
is it a muscular place?
is it a cadence this open palm wants?
bethrothed to the instant,
swearing allegiance,
a little dialogue between us like footprints,
is it the wingbeat itself it would cross through the
                                               envelope of flesh
to get, this hand flat on you now, a badge, an X-ray,
honing in, a hypothesis, monosyllabic,
over the supple, gossipy, tin-can heart, unrelenting—
to make you exist—
Whose names does the wind riffle through, trying to see us?
And behind us: these tulips appearing out of nowhere.
The soil opening its thousands of lids. So easy.
A thumb at a time, whole hands, grappling back up.
They’re flowers because they stop where they do.

Jorie Graham is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, including To 2040, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2023. She teaches at Harvard University.
Originally published:
April 1, 1995


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