Ars Poetica: Epidermis

Long before the knife ever touches her shoulder,
her skin has memorized its wanderings,
traced every night for a month with his fingertip,
his fingernail, the sharp tip of a red ink pen.
She reclines on her stomach, naked from the waist,
his hand beneath her, cupping the curve where
her breasts meet her ribs; her head upon her arms,
eyes closed, she exhales as he swabs a cotton ball
dipped in alcohol across his intended canvas –
it quickly dries, cool on the flesh, raising goosebumps
from the chill or from anticipation. Then he picks up
the knife.

Her skin kisses the curve of his scalpel like a lover
met at a distance, corresponded with frequently,
longed for, spoken of, but never embraced, until now:
not with fevered passion, but with a quiet reverence
for the moment where a wished-for dream materializes.
It is a kiss that splits the first layer of the skin,
sharp enough that she doesn’t notice the cut until
beads of bright blood well up from the line: the sting
compels a gasp, an arching, an unsure flutter of her
heart, but the steady touch of his hand, his silent
focus balancing the knife, her flesh, their joining,
calms her.

The poem is only five lines, but the shape of each
hot letter leaps out from her shoulder blade, flesh
and nerves more animated now than ever before:
every eddy of cool air that caresses her skin elicits
a shudder, a sigh, shivers like ripples in broken water
until the poem is done and he sets the knife aside.
Neither of them speak, but she reaches for his hand,
her small fingers encircle his slender artful digits.
He punctuates a single kiss beneath the red poem he’s
written on the pale parchment of her shoulder;
She pulls him down beside her: the poem breathes
her poet.

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