Transcendent Nightswimming deserves a quiet night. – Nightswimming, R.E.M. Night sky and water have married, a continuous blackboard of slate waiting to be scrawled on. The oars splash softly, like small fish soaring out of their element to snag a flying morsel. In the darkness, an indistinct shape suddenly towers. I grasp the ladder to the upper floor of the old wooden raft, the rowboat dipping under my shifting weight, and climb. Heights, dark water, being afraid—these are just a few of my fears. I peer into the nothingness. You can do this, my wife calls up to me from the boat. Daytime, and this stage rising just beyond the shallows would be swarmed with shrieking children. Witnesses to my doubt. It’s now or never, I think, before I leap, feet first, through the surface of my fear. A gentle ripple of terror passes through me as I torpedo into the water. Then I arrow my arms to a sky I cannot see, push aside the water, emerge from the belly of the lake like a newborn, slippery and devouring the air.
Kinship I’d sit in front of the stereo console for hours, Man of La Mancha spinning on the turntable, over and over and over that Christmas of 1972,while I snacked on grapefruit wedges and butter cookies, the sweet and the bitter seeking equilibrium. While other girls my age swooned over Donny, Shaun, and Leif, I was smitten with Don Quixote, that ancient bearded fool, no one’s idea of a heartthrob. Except, of course, me. Cervantes had peered into my soul across the centuries. Misfit, dreamer, romantic, ever tilting at windmills, victim and hero of my own imagination—I felt seen. If I was now kin to a madman, at least I was no longer alone.
I imagine Michelangelo caked
in marble dust, the dark curls
of his hair and beard rimed
white, as if an early frost,
his fingers and lips drained
of moisture by the dust’s
unquenchable thirst, his hands
calloused and scarred, coaxing
the marble to release its inner
figure with his hammer, his
chisel, how he must’ve left
streaks of white powder
on his lovers, for he seldom
bathed, how crusty his clothes
would have been from sweat-
hardened particles of limestone.
* * *
Linda Christensen, must have skin
soft as a baby’s, smoothing out
the lips and hair of her butterheads
with ungloved fingers—finishing
touches on the blocks of butter
she’s carved into the likenesses
of sturdy farm girls, immortalizing
them in churned milk glowing
golden—her raincoat deflecting
slippery chips of milky solids
from her clothes, but leaving
her face open to being anointed,
perfuming her with fatty sweetness.
* * *
Butter was gold and yellow oleo
illegal, when I was a youngster
in Wisconsin, making criminals
of the poor who waged oleo runs
to Illinois, praying not to get caught
by inspectors at the border as they
smuggled bricks of corn-colored
margarine, my mother coming home
with a trunkload of that marginal
contraband, only much later
would her cookies luxuriate
in the richness of butter.
* * *
On a sunny day in February,
four decades after my mother’s
passing, I am shaping butter
mixed with sugar and flour
into a long, rectangular log,
the color of unbleached linen.
Tomorrow, I’ll cut the block
into smaller versions of itself
and mark them with ellipses
made by the tines of a fork.
Not exactly sculpture. Still,
there’s an art to making
something delicious for
someone you love.
Yvonne Zipter is the author of the poetry collections Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, The Patience of Metal (a Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and Like Some Bookie God. Her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals over the years, as well as in several anthologies. Her published poems are currently being sold individually in Chicago in two repurposed toy-vending machines; over the years, the proceeds have resulted in thousands of dollars being donated to the nonprofit arts organization Arts Alive Chicago. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend and Ransacking the Closet and the Russian historical novel Infraction.