For Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney
Letter by letter, words trickled through the sand
blown before him on the shore by a wind
that bore the lake's own cool caress;
he failed to read them, eyes drawn skyward
by a lone black-winged speck that etched
lush loops beneath a canvas of clouds.
He came with easel, brush in hand,
himself not unlike a painting, skin
blended gesso pale, long black strokes
of hair. He propped up his own canvas,
paused, stood sculpture-still and marveled,
at a voice threaded through
the whistling breeze, the lapping waves.
Syllables not quite heard in full,
like fingers almost pressed along
the ridge of his cheekbones, against
the pulse beneath his chin, tilted his head,
aimed his gaze at a column, a shimmer
above the water, a figure formed
of sunset light, of fleeting umbral fire,
and that molasses-sweet whisper flowed,
embedded in the shore's wet breathing.
He took a step, another, allowed
the lake to take soft hold of his ankles,
his knees, his thighs, as unnoticed
the black birds gathered above,
writing cursive lines on shifting slate.
Always, her voice, her silhouette of flame
ahead of him, as his feet left the shelf,
as his eyes lost the sky, as the drink
filled him in, as he drowned unknowing,
pursued her murmur down into the deeps.
Past the light's last grasp the space
opened into other realms—stars blinked
below him and swan-white maidens
swam among them, spread gossamer fins
to slip aside, circle him, pluck his clothes.
Their laughter brought no bubbles. Neither
did his protests as he sped his gait.
The fever he chased sported a face,
dark-eyed, a coaxing-ember smile
easier to see in the expanding dark,
receding as a comet races, over plains
of magma murk where spined and shelled
imps bent to their work, harvested
the hollow-eyed dead for cooking pots
and tentpole torture games. They waved
their claws his way but he kept on,
his tapered sylvan feet well out of reach.
In a luminous demesne he at last became
entangled, nearly severed from his star
amidst a tightening lattice of hungry
radiance that craved all his layers
and would not be denied, until black forms
sliced their cursive from below, freed him
from the listless weight of flesh,
filled his arms with hues and shadows,
and lines to sew them in a greeting gift.
He stood before her, naked, reed-slender, blue
as the current that claimed him, black hair
in a cirrus crown, and dared to encroach
upon the corona draped over her shoulders,
the mist cinched at her waist, the aurora
of her tresses, to lay the circlet woven
of his soul's final art upon her brow.
And her speech came clear,
her syllables embraced.
Washed up on the rocks, his body
showed no wear, his dreamy smile
translucent as a half-remembered sunset.