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).