Bruise by Michael Ondaatje*


In the medieval darkness of the Holland Tunnel

with luminous green paint, on whitewashed walls

of the Madrid zoo, in his thick fingered handwriting

onto dust at the dry Casablanca aquarium


When last I held you in my arms

my love, the West African Black

Rhinoceros was still magnificent 

and still alive…”


What have you been doing to Paul Vermeersch?

He has searched for you encyclopedically

in Albacete, in Zagora, in those cities

whose names have changed,

till the maps he relies on wear out.

In what disguise did you leave him?

So he will not recognize

your gait anymore,

or your stare out from a diorama.


Hunt and Torment. Call by no Response.

In the end words of love reveal

just yourself. Not why

or the wished-for thing. Only the Spanish

consider his plea, only the drivers

deep in a tunnel into New York

nod wisely, agree with him.

But it is the black rhino whose loss they mourn,

not the person he once held in his arms


When it is over, it is over,

they say in the passing dark.

There are no longer great nostrils

to scent out the source of torment.

It is a generation since our love,

to justify anger, had a horn, a tusk.


*Originally published in the January, 13 2014 issue of The New Yorker. 


Women Like You by Michael Ondaatje

(The communal poem–Sigiri Graffiti, 5th Century)

They do not stir

these ladies of the mountain

do not give us

the twitch of eyelids

The king is dead

They answer no one

take the hard

rock as lover.

Women like you

make men pour out their hearts

‘The golden skins have

caught my mind’

who came here

out of the bleached land

climbed this fortress

to adore the rock

and with the solitude of air

behind them

carved an alphabet

whose motive was perfect desire

wanting these portraits of women

to speak

and caress

Hundreds of small verses

by different hands

became one

habit of the unrequited

Seeing you

I want no other life

and turn around

to the sky

and everywhere below

jungle, waves of heat

secular love

Holding the new flowers

a circle of

first finger and thumb

which is a window

to your breast

pleasure of the skin

earring     earring


of the belly

and then

stone mermaid

stone heart

dry as a flower

on rock

you long eyed women

the golden

drunk swan breasts


the long long eyes

we stand against the sky

I bring you

a flute

from the throat

of a loon

so talk to me

of the used heart