The hours between his clean
shaven kiss and his heavy boot
at the door show. A blue stain
of weariness, beneath his eyes,
across his rough chin.
He holds his face in his hands
for a moment and sighs.
I come to him, as I always have,
as I came the first time,
bereft, barefoot. A plain white shift,
a poorly spun knot of yarn,
a prayer book I have never opened.
He pulls me into his lap,
swinging my cold feet free of the stones.
He makes my hands into a bowl
and fills them.
First with laughter,
round and ringing against the rim,
then with pheasant and butter
and sharp red wine, then gold coins
warm, thick as butterscotches
and silk so fine it runs
out between my fingers.
He walks me through all the rooms
of him, scaring my palm with each key.
The room where his mother loved him.
The room where his sister cut his hair.
Rooms full of beds stacked tall
with linens, we need never stain
the same sheets twice.
Lifting me up to lay me down.
I open my rooms to him as well.
Small and poor and secret.
He is too large in these spaces,
breaking things as he moves in the dark.
And each night we walk
past the blue door in silence,
hands clasped too tightly, a sudden
stuttering hurry in our steps.
But it is not as if I don’t know.
His wives never leave
the house without him.
His wives never leave the house.
I do not own a single pair of shoes.
Their names are the frost breath
of his nightmares in the cold
after the fire has died.
Now I am the one kissing his eyelids,
I am the one filling his hands.
Someday he will spill me.
It is the only way into him.
Never to be parted,
soaking into the skin between
his fingers, blackening his nail beds,
the sting of copper in his mouth.
To be the still heart that he clings to,
the sacrament that cannot be undone.
Jody Burke-Kaiser was born barefoot in the Appalachian foothills to a family long steeped in storytelling and sarcasm. She has an MA in literature from Boston College, and an MSN in midwifery from Marquette University. Her work has appeared in The Louisville Review, After Hours, Rhino, BrainChild, Pirene’s Fountain, and was an Editor’s Choice in the Winter 2016/17 issue of Panoply.
Artwork: Lara Zankoul, The Key