Take exquisite care

peculiar and exceptional

Take exquisite care of yourself
she said, and that day, fighting a cold,
I misunderstood, took myself directly
to bed, then to the kitchen for soup,
then wasted an obscene amount of hot water
on a late afternoon shower.

Later, when the weight in my chest
had cleared, when I could breathe again,
and tell the difference between fogginess and fog,
it occurred to me I had not been listening
for a long time.

Here, she was saying, is the poem of you.
Here is your delicate architecture, you fragile aliveness.
Here are your deer legs, your dandelion heart.
Here are your dormouse tracks on fresh, permeable snow.
Here is the way you sing, your voice millimetering toward sound,
how you hold your gaze on the coastline as if it were
a fiber of gold. Here is your language,
thin as a moth wing, your kiss a whisper
of offering. Here is how you cross the street,
how you drive the car, how you throw a Frisbee and bake a cake.
Here are the contents of your purse,
the Chapstick down to the quick
the receipt for midnight groceries,
a square sachet of lavender, a pair of broken
sunglasses still, somehow, salvageable.
Here are the thousand tiny ways you know to love.
Here are your wild little arms,
the soft tentacles of your fingers.
Here is how you sleep and how you wake up,
how you tiptoe toward the edge of the water
like a turtle, a drip of honey, an heirloom sweater
buried in a pile of attic castoffs.
Here are your shoes. Here is the way you eat.
Here are your secret favorite things, the underbelly of clover
lining the deck boards, the moss erupting near the recycling.
Here is your devotion to precision and the giddy, uncontainable
mess you nevertheless effort to contain.
Here are the sounds you make when you’re happy,
the alleyway damp of your sorrow.
Here is the lullaby tucked inside your bureau,
the joy hidden under the last shelf in the pantry,
the smooth belly of peace obscured by traffic lights.
Here is everything you know,
and everything that is still waiting patiently
for you to know it.

And I saw that this exquisite care
I was asked to take was not a matter
of sleep or soup, or hot water,
but an unflagging allegiance to my own wisdom,
the curves and wayward bends of it,
wool-scratched and seaglass-soft
syllabled or a baby’s babble,
however it was shaped and however it shaped,
wisdom, mine, certainty and uncertainty, a light,
however dim, steady and beckoning.

and this too:
loyalty to the peculiar and exceptional
ticking of my heart, which, without any intervention,
knows exactly what it needs
to chase the next breath
and the one that will come
just after.

Maya Stein


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