Minor Alchemy

(Abridged for LGBTQ+ Pride, June 27, 2021)
by Christina Hutchins
First publ. in Crab Orchard Review 22.1, 2018

For this I collected the radiant warmth of the stucco wall
where I lay one summer night decades ago.
It was for this I learned the Bible in childhood,
Song of Songs, towers of breasts. I glimpsed lovers’
quivering bodies through the lattice.

For this I climbed the chain-link fence, dropped down
on the forbidden side. I climbed the Cypress.
I climbed the stairs. For this, the lost marriage bed.
Under the eaves, a fluting of mourning doves,
while the lovers lay on the bed & wept.

I dropped into shadow, became for a while
the ghost of a living woman. For this I fell
into her on the couch. I endured the rumple
of unmade beds, the window open, rain falling
on polished hardwood, & the giddy houseplants.

For this I came to love the heel of the bread,
saying, I like it. I’ll take it.
For this I said, I don’t want to assume.
Assume, you said, & for this I said,
Establish the work & let my love appear.

There are moments when time can be held in a hand.
I remember you wanted to sit next to me
at the lunch table among other bodies.
There was a moment you made a way, & you fit,
& love, how many were at the table then?

For this I take up a pen in the dark.
A paper cup blown against a chain-link fence
has been filled with wind. If you tell me
which way the Monterey Cypress are bent,
I will write for you which way is the Pacific.

For this I washed the coffee cups of my mother & father,
a terrycloth rag of soapy water around my fist,
turning clean the mugs thrown on my mother’s wheel.
The work of love is grief, though I didn’t know
I was doing it, then, moments when the body

transmutes years. The work of love is a slow joy,
one word set against & into the metal
of another, language & music making more
than language & music. From stucco I take
that afternoon’s leftover heat,

when reclining atop a wall under a summer
night sky, I said yes. Above me,
those stars are spaces of spark, refining me still.
For this I learned to rise from the bed,
from Ficus & tendril of Philodendron,

even from the beloved’s damp body,
her warmth under the thin blanket, not
remaining there, & this is crucial,
not remaining there, but rising daily,
cusp of night opening into a day

where image erupts, & the natural
world says, here: rain landing beside
her open window on the pine floor, rain
on the stairwell roof, heard on the landing.
Sometimes climbing down the stairs

from her embrace, I am almost
eternal, the way the Cypress’s bent trunk & limbs,
having met & been met nearly every moment
by the gust of an onshore wind, imperceptibly
become the memory of many gusts.