the fallen caryatids: Rodin

Close to Orpheus, their backs
to the Gates of Hell, they balance
their burdens in a slow,
bronze falling.

Supple as trees these women
fold into themselves, assuming
the unborn shape left long ago
for the difficult work
of their straightening.

Now weight breaks the symmetry
of shoulders in
graceful collapse.

One carries water; one
bears a stone. Each holds
a hand to steady the thing
that crushes her.

Each turns her face away from that hand.

On the planes of their cheeks
light lies smeared like fine oil,
lips press against wrists
as if tasting the gleam—

what flesh knows of its
own endurance, shining
like a blade.


first lesson

In April we walk—you ask me
the names of things. I say bay
laurel, Umbellularia californica,
also know as pepperwood. But
nothing happens until I crack
the spine of a slender leaf, hold it
to your nose. Suddenly, your face
is full of tree light, saying the
name, over and over.