Betrayed by a Kiss

John Savoie

Thou lookest far into eternity,
with those bright dying eyes!
Then tell me what thou seest?
— The Scarlet Letter, Ch. xxiii.

In this room there is something
other than us, not me, not mine,
and as I look on you, resting
between breaths, passing beyond
pain, free at last of all possession,
I know it cannot be yours.

It is the sound of lush waters sieving
the whale’s baleen, the distant ocean
running beneath us, seeking new shores;
or the sound of desperate fingers
digging from the inside out,
the easy flesh, the rasping bone.

No, it is different from that, too,
more familiar and more strange,
ghastly, like the sound of a soul
betrayed by a kiss, then kicked,
whipped, spat upon, dragged up
then down the sharp stone stairs.
Mouth pulling taut in rictus,
your eyes shine as if they spoke
that we have heard the sound before,
your eyes assuring that that soul—
lifted up as shame of all the earth,
then sunk so low—rose shining and pure.

John Savoie’s poetry has won two Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan, including a special award judged by Donald Hall. More recently, his poems have appeared in Poetry, Shenandoah, and Rock and Sling, and his first poetry collection, Open Book, is ready for a publisher. He teaches great books at Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville.