The morning after they first make love, she washes
his hands at the kitchen sink. He stands close
behind her, his arms round her body. In this hour
they are both bare to the shimmering light of the
window glass. She draws a boning knife from the block.
Her fingers, he remembers, have a quicksilver grace.
His breath is a race then a drowning. This woman
holds her sharpness in plain sight. He wants to withdraw
but the light on her spine shimmers; a lure in clear water.
There’s a hum of electricity or late summer cicadas
in the air and she is gentle pressing the point of her blade
below the nail of his index finger, her touch is delicate,
she draws no blood, causes this lover no pain. She shaves
each finger clean, clips each at the quick, thumbs
the rounded edges just to be sure. Some tenderness
begs to deconstruct the body, slips the wings from
hummingbirds, draws the fins from angelfish, safeguards
each beautiful piece in keepsake boxes. There’s always
a love that pulls us from the air with such sweetness
we die before we touch the ground and, wingless
believe the box is all we want. The box in its way knows
nothing amiss in the shuttered iridescence of flight.
But then there is another tender. One that flings us,
bared body, up (up) into the first starless sky it sees.
It dares us to take wing.
Finger by thick hard worn finger, she pulls his dirt,
cuts away his carelessness, promises him one small treat
of her body for each finger before she soaps and rinses him
clean. Here’s a man the hour before he knows he’s fallen
in love. He’s minding his hands for the first time. He sees
the grit of himself dug away. He’s the rush, flounder
of the fall, utter surrender of the body, box unfolding against
its will. He is the grace of what escapes, a night flown into
that discovers it is suddenly wildly starred.
He’s the wing. He’s the wing.
Lynne Procope is a poet, teaching artist and textile designer from Trinidad and Tobago. Now based in New York City, she is a cofounder/executive director of the nonprofit the louderARTS Project, editor of Union Station Magazine and founder of the new Gaslight Salon Series at 116 MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, the location of the historic bohemian hangout the Gaslight Café. Procope is a Cave Canem Fellow and was on the Nuyorican Poets’ Café team that won the 1998 National Poetry Slam Championship. She is coauthor of the collection Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press, 2000), and her work is included in numerous anthologies, including His Rib (Penmanship Books, 2007), Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007) and Bowery Women (YBK Publishers, 2006).
“Tender” © Lynne Procope and was first published in the literary magazine decomP. For reprint rights contact lynne [DOT] procope [AT] mac [DOT] com.