D. Nurkse

The Unmet Lover
September 15, 2011 Nurkse D.

The Unmet Lover


Once I saw you in a freight elevator

and you turned away, pretending to be absorbed

in Diamond Fashion. Once I woke in Chelsea

and you were beside me, naked, breathing lightly,

but I had no memory of climbing the hundred steps.

Once you touched my shoulder, in a crowd

at a Knicks game-–Kobe at the charity line,

the box seats beginning to bay, full throated.

I flinched and tried to read your lips.

Sometimes you opened my mail. You borrowed my keys.

You carved my name in the great circle of elms

that guards the dead lake in Prospect Park

and added marks that meant: hypocrite. Shame.

Always I stared, in absolute darkness,

sensed your presence and called your name

and that was who you were: that shape of the lips,

that breath, late summer in a huge city,

those factories making mufflers and phone books,

those dusty storefront churches, that wheezing organ,

that drumbeat, that tambourine shivering with praise.

D. Nurkse’s eleventh poetry collection Love in the Last Days, a verse retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth, is out from Knopf in New York this fall. His book Voices over Water, published by CB Editions, was shortlisted for the 2011 Forward Prize. The quotes in English that appear in this essay from Henri Michaux’s poem, “The Land of Magic,” were translated from the French by Dennis Nurkse. This essay appeared originally in Poetry London in a slightly different form.