Muslin by Jane Hirshfield
"I never knew when he would come,"
my friend said of her lover,
"though often it was late in the afternoon."
Behind her back the first plum blossoms
had started to open,
few as the stars that salt the earliest dark.
"Finallyweeks would go by, then months,"
she added, "but I always let him in.
It made me strong, you see,"
"the gradual going without him.
I think it taught me a kind of surrender,
though of course I hated it too."
Why he would appear or stay away
she never fathomed -
"I couldn't ask. And that also seemed only good."
A small bird fluttered silent behind her left shoulder,
then settled on some hidden branch.
"Do you ask the weather why it comes or goes?"
She was lovely, my friend, even the gray
of her hair was lovely. A listening rope-twist
half pity, half envy tightened its length in my chest.
"When he came, you see, I could trust
that was what he wanted.
What I wanted never mattered at all."
The hands on her lap seemed quiet,
I noticed something unspoken begin to
billow and shimmer between us,
weightless as muslin,
but neither of us moved to lift it away.
A Story About the Body by Robert Hass
The young composer, working that summer at an artist's colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking mack from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, "I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy," and when he didn't understand, "I've lost both my breasts." The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity - like music - withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I could." He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl - she must have swept them from the corners of her studio - was full of dead bees.