Poetry: Notes on Desire, on Distance by Brooke Sahni
In “Notes on Desire, on Distance,” a dead buck in the road leaves the speaker to muse on the passions in her life. These musings, both familial and romantic, guide the poem’s climax of ultimate unity.
Notes on Desire, on Distance
When I’m crouched on my heels in front of the young, dead buck, I can hear
the landscaper in the distance tell my mother that he thinks I am beautiful.
When my new lover asks me to spread my legs wider he says,
Let me see how pretty you are, to bring himself closer to me.
My mother, worried about death’s scent, its rise and fall
like an exhausted breath, decides we need to move the body further away from us, that distance is the remedy—
There are too many reasons why he and I shouldn’t be, so I am hesitant
and therefore closed, only letting a small part of myself peek through to reach him.
But there are no men around to help us with the unpleasant weight,
the landscaper gone, and so—
I realize I am not very good at having a causal relationship because I consider telling my man that I did it, that I moved the body all by myself, dragging it down into the woods, just so he’ll think I’m brave.
O, you, we say to one another from a distance. O, you. It is a proclamation of longing.
When I get even closer, there is a wound so cavernous it appears infinite, an endless maw that stays open, almost as if the dead could allow, say, Yes, to the flies and wasps who want so deeply to harmonize inside the flesh.
Because we’ve been apart longer than we have been together, we word our desire out of distance. When we are ravenous, we say so. When want it raw, we say so. We want to devour each other’s mouths, we say so. When we want the nighttime tenderness of soft limbs, we say so. Cock. Spit. Night. He says, Kismet. O, you. So much want, we are becoming made of words.
My mother and I call Fish and Game and the kind, female voice says
that because the buck is not near enough to any road, there is nothing they could do. Leave it to the circle of life. She said it two more times: Leave it to the circle of life. If her voice were flesh, it would be the tender side of a young girl’s wrist.
When he wanted me to spread, he pleaded, O-pen. I am still not sure how I feel about the word, splay. I still will not tell you of all the reasons he is forbidden, just that he said it two more times: Open, open.
My mother ties a rope around the back legs and I watch as she drags the body over rocks, the head unapologetically thumping, and I wonder if the wound is getting wider. I wonder how much time it will take for the body to disintegrate. I wonder what animal might come tonight to eat the flesh? The phrase from my lover from a few days ago: I want to eat you like a plain’s lion eats a gazelle out from the crotch first or, I suppose I’d like to eat you in some way—
as to taste you in mouth It is not like my mother to move an animal body through the woods. As I watch her disappear further, there are messages coming off of this distance: My mother is brave, and, if my body were to lay out just like that in death I would be eaten away just the same.
When she returns she is crying about the body, talking of my grandparents who are bones beneath the ground. What is the point of all this living? As hospice nurse, my mother has tended to more dead bodies than most. Something about the animal body, she says. O, body. O, distance from the living to the dead.
Tonight, with him at last, I remember how to say, Alive without speaking. There is the word, again, cresting on his lips: O-pen. But I will not let him speak it. I will take his hands to my inner thighs and let him widen the sweet distance that keeps us, the living, always surrendering to the same chant: together we sing, Open, together we plead, More.
Brooke Sahni’s poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in magazines such as Denver Quarterly, The Journal, The Cincinnati Review, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, The Missouri Review, Nimrod and elsewhere. Her debut full-length poetry collection, Before I Had the Word, was selected by Maggie Smith as the winner of the 2020 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Texas Review Press. She is also the author of Divining (Orison Books, 2020), which won the Orison Chapbook Prize. She is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and lives in New Mexico.