The Lords have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God hold me in my wits.
Elizabeth Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh, who kept her husband
Sir Walter’s head, which was enbalmed after his execution,
in a velvet bag, until her own death 27 years later.
It remained your face, even after it cracked,
and bristles shrunk gingerly from your leather cheeks.
The bag became your shape, sunk into your watchful skull,
eyes closed against their velvet night, and the quiet displacements
of air. I have become a vacant space that dry earth
does not wait for, but will accept,
indifferently, when time no longer comes.
But I could not give you up, even after your shoulders
slipped from your tensed jaw,
sharply and shuddered with the dignity of hot breath.
You were made hand-sized and the curve of this skull
now rounds my palm as it never did in life.
But your nose did not uncrook itself nor do your lips
fall differently over your teeth. So little was undone
when they slipped you from yourself. Except in me.
For there, my ship of wits watched stars sleet themselves
askew, and the wheeling sextant span its numbers
into fractions of themselves. Oarless in the wreckage
of my Jonahed ship, I am fogged with blue air.
And even here, my smallest finger knows the angles
of each crease of seven seas of skin. Your lips can find out
mine and every inch of me. I keep this globe of you:
an open secret; an affront; a weeping sore.
And, in this explorer’s life, the valleys I can neither conquer,
crest or claim, or underwrite in charts, are those I kiss
and keep, which run the latitudes of your tempest brow.