The boy who wears a feather in his ear
is not like a bird sitting by the river,
the two of them, one with his dark head,
his soft head, in the lap of the other.
Both of them have strangely soft hair,
I know this, have felt it.
The black-haired boy’s shoulders
are broad from the summer spent laying bricks
back home in San Juan. His long hair
covers his eyes. His legs are thick
with muscle, the bounce and verve of the soccer ball,
and he smells like a field of pepper, a cedar tree
fallen into a stream and stripped. The other boy
wears a blue bathing suit. He is entirely dry.
The beard he grew on vacation
hangs from his face, red moss
on pale stones. Even seated, his thin shoulders
float unsteadily, off-center but balanced,
like the top bar of a mobile. He usually holds
his hands as if he is just about to rub dirt from them.
But here his fingers, two fingers, are knuckle-deep
in the silk of dark hair, and two more against
the warm forehead, hard of skull, and his thumb
thrown up, flung into air touching nothing, a gesture
to beckon me back in?
The boy wears a feather in his ear.
It dangles from a brassy hook, it marks
him as Figure A in the scene set beside
the river he watches the sun rise across
each morning, the scene I’m watching,
feather like a leaf in eddy of air,
like a scrap of bay horse’s hide
warm as grass through dry dirt,
and now the fingers of Figure A fly up,
press to his ear, what does he hear I cannot
hear—can he? And how did he
become the one whose smell I recall,
fingers pressing beneath
his arms and the haunt of him
everywhere on them, and now he’s playing
with grass, pulling at it, and quickly
all the leaves go quiet at their edges
as Figure B enters the scene
a step ahead of the shadows,
as Figure A greets him with a kiss,
his whole body turned upward, something like a hand
held out to be taken, a hand held and shaken,
spotted feather playing in wind
casting shadows on his neck on the lips
of Figure B against the neck of Figure A
distorted over the muscles of their necks,
sky streaked all sinewy with day and their faces
a day just beginning, no proof
of the earring’s weight any more,
fingers touching the back of Figure A
like lost tourists wandering a piazza
and the silent man in the afternoon air
who is sitting out at a café table watching
our disoriented sightseers,
who can’t hear everything they’re saying,
who decides at last not to get up
and not to speak over the sound of the river
the slow wind in hot trees can’t touch can’t I
give up my wings to get my arms.
And have I been looking too long at him
and him, thinking too long about
they, long about I, and he’s been picking at
the skin around his nails, barbs angled
away, stinging, as the lemons
ripen after a day in air, hanging from hooks
in a shop’s open window, object
entirely fragrance, entirely the object’s
breaking-down in sun, a boy running
upper limbs held wide through a wet field
of wheat and for a week the smell of wheat
dimpled into him. I’ll give you a hint.
They all come to me like seashells
from someone else’s vacation, always
the sense of overhearing ocean, whirring
of blood, same blood beating for…
And he found him underfoot, a toy
on the playroom floor, something to make
a body jump back, cry out. Take note.
When I was a boy, I had a plastic castle.
I filled it with bright figures.