American Muse: Oliver de la Paz


“By Subtraction”

The wind shakes the chimes
into the siding, and the dog shakes too
though he doesn’t wake you
as I carry you to the bedroom. Small mouth
sipping breath, you are fish-strange,
bejeweled in the dimness of the microwave’s
nightlight. As I turn my back to the bulb
I make your form in my arms a dark weight
but you are no anchor. Together
we are sloops trailing a tiny wake in the carpet.
In the dark it’s hard to navigate the furniture
so I count distance—five paces
from the tile to the sofa. From the sofa,
twelve to the hall. I’m subtracting
my steps to see what’s left. The things
that burden me, like our lame dog’s shattered nail,
blood on the carpet from his paces
to the food dish, our drafty house, all are outpaced.
There are no barriers, and I step over
the hound’s dozing form as a quick gust cuts
dead branches from the pine and the drifts
lock our cars in. But I’m still counting—
the none-stars in the winter sky,
each hazily wrapped and strobing. The far bell
over the deep waters of your sleep. Two steps to the corner
where there are no animals nor animal danger. Two
to the bed where behind us the shadow of the dog
could be distant hills, where the clouds disassemble,
where your breaths pull the warmth of the room in
and where my face, my eyes are the glint of ore
from a country far away and known only in a language,
light as the syllables of exhalation.

Below – Paul Gauguin: “Young Girl Dreaming (Study of a Child Asleep).”

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