The Silk Road Epistles             


I stood by the road and smelled your skin

on merchants and missionaries entering the city.


You sent letters written in a celestial alphabet

that confessed, Dear savage kisser,


my heart is always. One day you arrived

offering cocoons and mulberry leaves,


and we sighed together in our mutual loneliness.

I discovered your body split by a meridian


of burning nerves, so I only kissed half of you.

That night you stared past me at the single shadow


we formed on the wall, and the next morning

you were gone. Dear pleasure,


Dear darkest fruit, my heart divides

and divides and is not yours. I saw a door


in water and a door in stone and a door just beyond

the cliff’s edge. I went to erase the hours


I mistook pleasure for happiness. Always my bones

knit back together. Always my heart fails


to release me. New letters arrive to say,

Dear memory, the old pleasure


is the enemy of the new. The courier’s

shaking hand smells like ginger and raw silk.


Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forche for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award.  Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere.  She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and Kings/Chávez/Parks Fellow.