Light makes light; day makes day.
The endless panting of the dog owes
nothing to heat or pain, but to measure—
each breath is an increment and breath
wears away the husk
The moment falls into jeopardy, yet not
jeopardy. Unsafety. In the dark
we hear its quick breath. And we are lulled
Light undoes light; day recoils from day.
In the ambient noise of time, we
no longer hear the dog’s ceaseless
panting, but see in the dim its
necessary tongue curling
This threadbare, this eroded
breath satiates undoing.
But time remains: obstinate.
Give the creature a treat, a
morsel, to distract breath from
vibrating with the heat
is creation, the fleet rhythm
of desperation. Grasped
by the lung, and so ejected.
We see light recede
from the window of the day when
to see is to rub through
sight into darkness. Dark
reducing dark to a nub, and night’s
breath ragged, then slowing.
We sleep through the unsafety
of darkness, tempted and finally
trained to breathe more slowly,
lips introducing raveled breath
to the margin of lung, lost time,
the dog hidden in a rhythm shiny
with overuse, a vague glow, a consoling
In the lost gospel, children gambol
in the master’s field and when he
tells them that it is his—they must go—
the children strip naked and stand
The story waits for punishment,
but the children, in a row,
cannot quite stand still, twirling,
extending their limbs.
They are innocent because they
have no understanding of guilt.
The master is at a loss, looks away.
They were not quite children. More like
feathers pouring out of a torn pillowcase.
Or leaves in scatter across a field devoid of
What it is to play? It is to accept arrival
as coincident with departure.
Pink on the surface chafed with
nakedness. Here is
the dark inside them: beneath tongue,
at navel, inside whorl of ear, armpit.
An insistence where there wasn’t any.
Gravity distended into space.
They frightened us by their innocence.
They came away from their crime so readily.
The master took a blade
and cut the shiny locks from their heads
but did not otherwise dismember them.
He planted the hair
in the empty field or burned it:
less deciduous than ashy. A reek
of burnt hair in the lost story
that portended good news.
A wrist that lifts
a hand toward the falling
leaf that changed course, drifted elsewhere.
Hide and seek.
The hand, reaching, finds what would prefer not
to be found.
For the child, what is naked
is what is supposed to be
for a child.
The children gasp in delight,
bending down when they realize
each hand, like each foot,
has five appendages, not
just parallel, but the multiple
parallels, the gospel, the
tree, the child, the master,
the bare bareness,
naked hands and feet whose parts
and then are reborn
are fitted back together
in the innocent reach
of the body.
Elizabeth Robinson is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Rumor and Blue Heron. Robinson's book On Ghosts was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She has been a winner of the National Poetry Series for Pure Descent and the Fence Modern Poets Prize for Apprehend. With Jennifer Phelps, Robinson co-edited Quo Anima: Innovation and Spirituality in Contemporary Women's Poetry.