Via Lactea

Puerto Maldonado, Peru 2003

There are more stars in the southern hemisphere, I’m convinced.
All the grand small things of the night hum and whir with life,
a bat streaks past my blind face and the river swells after nine hours of rain.
Javier raises his arm in the dark and traces the Milky Way with his finger.
“Via Lactea” he says, and it pulses as though purring.
Night glows brighter when the electricity cuts out at 10 o’clock,
cranky generator lumbering to a loud and sudden silence.

I have no faith except where this candle shines through mosquito net,
Javier’s eyes liquid beneath me, blinded
by quadriceps and breast and hands feeling a range of soft
or dangerous landscapes, mud outside sucking at our knee-high galoshes,
ants marching and holding green leaves like flags,
how we climbed onto the lipped roots of an enormous ficus
tree to see what creatures nested in its dark cunt.

The world has come alive in this slim
rise of waist, all logic resting in a light
scar across the nose, his thighs showing lighter flesh
where sunlight could not reach as he skimmed the lake.

Climb down where I can help you, throw that machete down
on the packed dirt or lean it carefully upright on its sharp tip,
it doesn’t matter, just move a bit to the left, press
that universe of nerve endings joining up with yours
remember only this moment, the space where I begin, you begin,
no ending in sight for now, inhabit you like I did
on a table in Istanbul, a dance floor in Krakow,
a stranger’s bed in Melbourne, an ice skating rink in Missouri.

Tell me your name again, not mine – I know who I am now – lodge it
into my ear so I don’t lose it like a coin slipped into the river,
say it so I’ll remember when I lift the mosquito net
and reach my toes for the muggy floor to blow the candle out.


Aidan Lee’s poems have been published in Salamander, Bayou, Memoir, J Journal, Snapdragon, Paper Nautilus and Aunt Chloe. She was a semi-finalist in both the 2016 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open and First Book Award Competition. She has an MFA from Hunter College where she won the Academy of American Poets prize.

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