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Arctic Poppies

Susan Musgrave
From:   Things that Keep and Do Not Change. McClelland & Stewart, 1999

After a week of rough seas the ship docked
at Hopedale. The weather was no good but still
I struggled ashore and climbed to the desecrated
churchyard, determined to take away something
of a memory, to photograph the white Arctic
poppies. Each time I framed a shot, my hands
steady at last, a hunchback on crutches teetered
into sight, as if innocently waiting for the fog
to lift, the rain to let up, the light
to throw open its dingy overcoat and expose
itself to my nakedness. My eye, my whole body
had been saving itself for this, but every time
he humped into view, I thought of you, the best
man I'd ever left, lips tasting of whatever you'd had
to eat: spicy eggplant baba ghanoug, jumbo
shrimp in garlic and Chablis, your mother's
meat pie with a dash of cinnamon
and cloves. When the sun broke

through I'd have those wild flowers posed,
I'd be poised to shoot and then the stooped
shadow would fall as if to say beauty
without imperfection was something to be
ashamed of, as if he could be my flaw.
Crouched beside an abandoned grave
I tried to focus on those white
poppies in light that went on failing,
seeing your perfect body in his
crippled gaze. I could have taken him

back to my cabin aboard the ship, laid
his crutches down, bathed him, bent over
his grateful body and licked the smell
of smoked trout and caribou hide from his
thighs. Perhaps this is what he hoped for,
and then to be called beautiful afterwards.

I took his photograph. He'd wanted that, too
and suddenly I felt blessed, I felt
I'd been taken the way I liked it best: sex

in the head on sacred ground that has been
roughed up a little, a graveyard full
of ghostly poppies choking out the dead.

Susan Musgrave's works copyright © to the author.

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