by Elizabeth W. Garber
I am so amazed to find myself kissing you
with such abandon,
filling myself with our kisses
astounding hunger for edges of lips and tongue.
Returning to feast again and again,
our bellies never overfilling from this banquet.
Returning in surprise,
such play of flavors of gliding lips
and forests of pressures and spaces.
The spaces between the branches
as delicious as finding the grove of lilies of the valley
blossoming just outside my door under the ancient oak.
“I’ve never held anyone this long,” you said,
the second time you entered my kitchen.
I am the feast this kitchen was blessed to prepare
waiting for you to enter open mouthed in awe
in the mystery we’ve been given,
our holy feast.
My kids listened to a lot of audio books on our many drives from Michigan to Maryland and while none were so graphic as this poem, there were one or two that we cringed through together along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. One such book, the title and plot lost to us now, had a protagonist preparing for a first kiss by consulting or making up a set of rules. “Rule Number 3,” the narrator announced in a nasally, staccato voice that we have loved to imitate ever since, “mouth—may be —open —or closed.”
(If anyone has read this book and knows anything about it, please let me know.)
Second-most cringeworthy was the breathy narrator of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret asking God when she would get her period.
The point is, as curious as we may be of other people’s intimate lives, we don’t really want to see them up close. My initial reaction to this poem was somewhere between Okay, okay I get it and Turn the camera away, now! All those gliding lips, those edges of lips and tongue, the delicious flavors, the open mouths, the bellies waiting to be filled—it put me in mind of the grandson in The Princess Bride protesting his bedtime story:
“Oh no! No! Please!”
“What is it? What’s the matter?”
“They’re kissing again! Do we HAVE to hear the kissing parts?”
But that final kiss, when it filled the screen, was so beautiful that the squeamish little boy was won over. As his grandfather says,
“Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”
And so with this poem. By the third read, the kiss enchanted me. The narrator stands in the kitchen, a man enters, she’s surprised, they kiss. The kiss is dissected into its parts in beautiful imagery that will color my idea of kissing for years to come. And the comparison of a kiss to a holy feast will give this Catholic gal some very interesting thoughts next time she goes to Mass.
I left the poem in a bush at the University of Michigan’s peony garden. The peonies were just past peak, spent, slightly deflated, lovers on wrinkled sheets. (Yes, I am trying to make you cringe.)
[Side note: In the garden I saw a man with his arms around a tree, his lips nearly touching the bark, seemingly kissing it. I thought, that’s Ann Arbor for you, land of the nuts and the squirrels. I took a picture on the sly, intending to put it in this post. But later I saw the man walking with great difficulty back to the parking lot, dragging his leg and lurching with each step. He needed healing from the tree, not ridicule from me. It was his own holy feast, and I hope he got his what he was after.]
Poet Elizabeth Garber grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in a glass house designed by her father, a well-regarded architect who was mentally ill. She wrote a memoir, Implosion, about that time in her life. She’s also published three books of poetry. For thirty years she’s been a practicing acupuncturist in a small coastal town in Maine where she lives with her family.