the traveler, starting young

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I never was in so much trouble
as that time I vanished down the tracks,
losing sight of the afternoon,
small shoes balanced on the ties,
walking into evening between the rails

even at that age I could name goldenrod
and dog rose, Queen Anne’s lace and sumac –
could pick out moths from butterflies –
but had not yet discovered the word
for that unrelenting itch to wander

but mother knew the word and four miles later,
I was spanked all the harder
for the future loss of her daughter
who would disappear along the tracks
to find solace down some dusty road

© Sarah Whiteley

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the waiting

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the waiting creeps up
from feet, passes hips,
submerges wrists
in slippery uncertainty

naturally, the ear
strains to catch
the subtle shift of air
that marks departure

no one ever sings
through the smoke
of staying –
love and smoke both
only ever go

sometimes you
get so caught up
in the leaving,
all kisses become
eventual goodbyes

another bottle
sits on the table,
waiting for me to
swallow myself again
with pretending,

for your feet
to recede down
the front steps
down other, more
diffident streets

© Sarah Whiteley

what has been lost

smoke
love remaining half-asked,
with an exile’s hunger,
what have you lost?
smoke never stops moving,
alters nothing, and
leaves irretrievably

when exactly does time
distill us down to fire?
down to accumulated passion?
at what point have we traded
the marked directions
of known constellations
for the possible light
of far, unseen stars?

I carry with me every touch,
each quiet sigh released
beside you, and have lost
precisely nothing

© Sarah Whiteley

a poet’s levy

certain books stay hidden –
those in which loss and love
exist without conclusion

and at times I may crack them –
draw new maps to old places,
new creatures of known constellations,

and let the moon out into the room
once more, to rest on shoulders
that can bear the additional gravity

a tolerable price to pay
for the pen to be able to say
“I survive! I survive! I survive!”

© Sarah Whiteley