While he painted her back, Jean remembered the first time — in the cinema in Morrisburg — that they’d sat together in the dark. Avery had touched her nowhere but her wrist, where the small veins gather. She felt the pressure move along her arm, his fingertip still touching only an inch of her, and she decided. Later, in the bright foyer she was exposed, an invisible disarray; he had crawled a slow fuse under her clothes. And she knew for the first time that someone can wire your skin in a single evening, and that love arrives not by accumulating to a moment, like a drop of water focused on the tip of a branch — it is not the moment of bringing your whole life to another — but rather, it is everything you leave behind. At that moment.
It was as if, long ago, a part of him had broken off inside, and now finally, he recognized the dangerous fragment that had been floating in his system, causing him intermittent pain over the years. As if he could now say of that ache: “Ah. It was you.”
— Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault
Love makes you see a place differently, just as you hold differently an object that belongs to someone you love. If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.
She was like freedom just over a border, an oasis in the sand. She was all legs and arms, gangly and elegant, all bits and pieces with one united appeal. The teenager peeped from her face or her limbs just when she was trying to be most sophisticated. This unsettled innocence was like iron fillings to a magnet; she was everywhere on my heart, spiky and charged, itchy and there to stay.
— Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
The dead leave us starving with mouths full of love.
— Anne Michaels, from “Memoriam”
If love wants you; if you’ve been melted down to stars, you will love with lungs and gills; with feathers and scales; with warm blood and cold.
— Anne Michaels
A reading by me: Night Garden, Anne Michaels
Your mouth, a hand
against my mouth.
Pressed to earth, we dream
of ocean: heat-soaked, washed
with exhaustion, our mariner’s sleep
haunted by smells of garden—fresh rosemary
thirty miles off Spain. Long grasses
sway the bottom of our boat.
We follow a sequence
of scents complex as music,
navigate earth places, sea places, follow
acoustics of mountains,
warbler instinct in the dark—
Siberia, Africa, and back—
phosphor runways guiding us to shore,
moonlight half eaten by the waves.
Across the lawn, a lit window floats.
Welts of lupine. You remember
an open window, Arabian music
through wet beeches. We know we’re moving
at tremendous speed, that if it could be seen
the stars would be a smear
of velocity. But all is still,
pinioned. In the night garden,
light is a swallowed cry.
Naked in the middle of the city
the stars grow firm in our mouths.
So much of the city
is our bodies. Places in us
old light still slants through to.
Places that no longer exist but are full of feeling,
like phantom limbs.
Even the city carries ruins in its heart.
Longs to be touched in places
only it remembers.
Through the yellow hooves
of the ginkgo, parchment light;
in that apartment where I first
touched your shoulders under your sweater,
that October afternoon you left keys
in the fridge, milk on the table.
The yard - our moonlight motel -
where we slept summer’s hottest nights,
on grass so cold it felt wet.
Behind us, freight trains crossed the city,
a steel banner, a noisy wall.
Now the hollow diad
floats behind glass
in office towers also haunted
by our voices.
Few buildings, few lives
are built so well
even their ruins are beautiful.
But we loved the abandoned distillery:
stone floors cracking under empty vats,
wooden floors half rotted into dirt;
stairs leading nowhere; high rooms
run through with swords of dusty light.
A place the rain still loved, its silver paint
on rusted things that had stopped moving it seemed, for us.
Closed rooms open only to weather,
pungent with soot and molasses,
scent-stung. A place
where everything too big to take apart
had been left behind.
— Anne Michaels, Phantom Limbs
There’s another skin inside my skin
that gathers to your touch, a lake to the light;
that looses its memory, its lost language
into your tongue,
erasing me into newness.
Just when the body thinks it knows
the ways of knowing itself,
this second skin continues to answer.
In the street - café chairs abandoned
on terraces; market stalls emptied
of their solid light,
though pavement still breathes
summer grapes and peaches.
Like the light of anything that grows
from this newly-turned earth,
every tip of me gathers under your touch,
wind wrapping my dress around our legs,
your shirt twisting to flowers in my fists.
— Anne Michaels