Sovereign Secrets

Dana Gioia

Winter 2015

Marriage of Many Years

Most of what happens happens beyond words.
The lexicon of lip and fingertip
defies translation into common speech. I
recognize the musk of your dark hair.
It always thrills me, though I can’t describe it.
My finger on your thigh does not touch skin— it
touches your skin warming to my touch.
You are a language I have learned by heart.

This intimate patois will vanish with us, its
only native speakers. Does it matter?
Our tribal chants, our dances round the fire
performed the sorcery we most required.
They bound us in a spell time could not break.
Let the young vaunt their ecstasy. We keep
our tribe of two in sovereign secrecy.
What must be lost was never lost on us.


Sea Pebbles: An Elegy

My love, how time makes hardness shine.
They come in every color, pure or mixed,
gray-green of basalt, blood-soaked jasper, quartz,
granite and feldspar, even bits of glass,
smoothed by the patient jeweler of the tides.

Volcano-born, earthquake-quarried,
shaven by glaciers, wind-carved, heat-cracked,
stratified, speckled, bright in the wet surf—
no two alike, all torn from the dry land
tossed up in millions on this empty shore.

How small death seems among the rocks. It drifts
light as a splintered bone the tide uncovers.
It glints among the shattered oyster shells,
gutted by gulls, bleached by salt and sun—
the broken crockery of living things.

Cormorants glide across the quiet bay.
A falcon watches from the ridge, indifferent
to the burdens I have carried here.
No point in walking further, so I sit,
hollow as driftwood, dead as any stone.


Vultures Mating

On the branch of a large dead tree
a vulture sits, stinking of carrion.
She is ripe with the perfume of her fertility.
Half a dozen males circle above her,
slowly gliding on the thermals.

One by one, the huge birds settle
stiffly beside her on the limb,
stretching their wings, inflating their chests,
holding their red scabrous heads erect.
Their nostrils dilate with desire.

The ritual goes on for hours.
These bald scavengers pay court politely—
like overdressed princes in an old romance—
circling, stretching, yearning,
waiting for her to choose.

The stink and splendor of fertility
arouses the world. The rotting log
flowers with green moss. The fallen chestnut
splits and drives its root into the soil.
The golden air pours down its pollen.

Desire brings all things back to earth,
charging them to circle, stretch, and preen—
the buzzard or the princess, the scorpion, the rose—
each damp and fecund bud yearning to burst,
to burn, to blossom, to begin.

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