The Woodsman's Ring

Peter Mishler

I saw you once when you were young
leaning against the pearl-lined cistern on the hill
whittling a streak of quartz with a small knife
the stain of palm wine on your chin
the gleam of a brass ring on your finger
in the shape of a crocodile
who floated all its life on the river
at the hands of gods and mortals
sometimes a boy sailing its back to shore
sometimes a preacher with the hair of a girl
in the pocket of his buttoned vest.
Now you suck your ring hand in the dark
and wait for death to sidle up beside your fire
riding to you on the back of a child
with cat’s-eye marbles for his eyes.
Death, her eyes are pleurisied.
Death, she favors the wounds of her child
and so no longer strikes him.
And when she finds you, she parts your hair,
and with her two-pronged tongue
she bathes you, and bathing you
tastes sugar, cherries, and the alimentum
on which you were fed when you ran on two legs
through the sandwoods with courage and ruth.