Nicky Beer

To Radius and Ulna

                  The two bones that form the framework of the forearm.

I sing of arms . . .
From their names alone,
they could have been another pair
of Virgil's jilted:
two slightly horsey,
big-boned sisters
lovesick over the same sailor
who had his hometown
stenciled on one tanned shoulder
in four indigo letters.
Did he take them
separately, hoisting
himself over one white
window sill, then the next,
or did he make it a game,
passing back and forth
between the two of them
at one time in the dark—
restless ship
in a heaving strait—
daring himself to guess
whose leg, whose arm?
What happened next, though,
is certain. The morning
they both found him gone
and the harbor emptied
of burnished masts,
they went down
to the shore.
Ulna, the elder, the homelier,
pulling her shawl over
her head until only the broad,
jutting nose she despised,
that crow's beak, was visible.
The younger leaning slightly
on one hip, the tip
of her slipper placed firmly
on the hem
of the other's dress,
as if she were
a plain, slow sea-bird
caught by the tail . . .
Time and the beach
slowly stuccoed
the pair in a white
mosaic: crabs emptied
and ossified at their feet,
the gulls dropped
guano and feathers,
the sea grass bleached
and wound into their hair.
Each dusk, the sun drowned
a doubled creep of shade
in the tide.

It's nothing
new for anyone to want
this, to be turned
to salt after a night
with someone who seemed
to have it pouring
from his mouth
in marshy lungfuls,
leaching from his fingers
that turned their tongues to paper.
Because we cannot first become
the bull, the swan, the lightning itself
for our loves, we prove
our devotion afterwards
by slowly becoming
But these two—they never became
beautiful, no matter what
we may want for them.
Think of how they must have
marveled at their own
admired the chaos
that crafts
every quiet thing:
that thin, pale fan
dragged in by the waves
was once the rage of a fish.
This wind-diminished dune
was a mile of sea-roil.
These rocks were fire,
were women
who found,
beneath their tenderness,
an absolute,
an unadorned
yearning for the weight
of a familiar body,
a mute, stolid
lovesong of bones:
to hold.



"To Radius and Ulna" is from The Diminishing House (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010).