• Petra White


The Rhapsode


Love, small morsel,

becalms the dark self, the lover

sifts, unknowingly,

through his various forms:

demon, protector, seducer;

hard to make room for him,

to make it not a sickness.


He beside me, past and future

gone, my thoughts

are the hum of a tiny machine of self,

a tiny bomb in the larger

machine of us.

What can you save me from?

Can I enter you as I enter the darkness?


This surfeit of feeling,

bricking up all the space.

The self,

that starry singularity,

it must sit on a shelf

and wobble,

must breathe into the night like a door.


Between each golden point

that isn't quite oneness

but a resting point for longing,

the dark hangs itself out again, the lover

is faceless, distant,

needing to be imagined,

invented, longed for,


love begins again and again,

further each time,

hurls itself against its absence like a wave,

and the self riding along

is hopeful as a leaf, 

the tough heart flung open

to whatever may fall it.





Ode on Love


What he has taken of me

I don’t even want back,

I don’t want to want back.

This new happiness holds up

a novel mischief that waits in the near.

Why so indispensible?

Before I knew him I did not need him:

if he goes I must replace him,

as if I could. And that circling body-mashing doubt.

How he throws me

into dark and retrieves me! 

And with gazes like little riffing flames inhabits me.


What does the bottom-most soul know of this –

that basin of us

concerned only with survival,

collecting residual passion

and washing clean,

shining up that bit of us

that cares nothing?


That idea that every lover is the same,

that there’s a template, a type,

that what I all-but-worship’s not this man but an all-man man

likely to be just like my father:

being one man he is all,

many desires folded into one bright

bouquet of obsession that springs from the heart like Spring.


He is coasting along his own midnight.

The trapping of his breath, the only outward sign,

I devour it like meat,

as if it was him,

tenderly and watchfully in all love’s creepiness.

Love is a thing, the self’s

undoing that it begs for.

He twitches out hot shivers of love he shifts away from,

exalts and voids me

with the economy of a waiter emptying a whole table with one hand.


Power to love draws the long breath from me.

Petrarch made this a joy, an Other queening distance,

love never shaken by reality, never

whittled by exchange.

I fear whatever we have will puff like a daisy.

And if not?

Mutuality, mutability, love nuanced and grappled, hard.

This seam of encounters can’t peg itself down,

it is or isn’t, it is high or low, a scythe swinging in, or out.


The self tries to locate him, and itself

in all the moving signifiers of love,

lover and love, meaning and feeling,

thing that says, love this one, not another.

I lie in bed scratching at the night.

Absent, his beauty

evaporates. He flickers before me,

knowable-unknowable, central lover, man-figure

skating so sweetly at the edge of a beauty.

How I hope against. How I want to know if he.

And love dares the self.

To risk what there is in hope of havocking more to risk.


Trying not to try to purloin him whole

but keep him near—to tell my heart so stupid!

The drawbridge clatters up.