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Yvonne Zipter

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.

* * *

Minnesota’s Michelangelo,

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.


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