Issue 2,  Poetry

The Timekeeper by Sarah Etlinger

You kept time 
beads in a drawer
that you showed me
the first time we met.
You pulled it open
and there they were:
smooth beads nearly
vibrating, encased 
in the velvet
arms of the drawer
like so many millions
of porcelain eyes.

Amidst a handful of morning
light through the window
you placed one on my bare chest
and I felt the day lengthen,
stretch out, like dough,
translucent, firm, taut
(so much like the skin
on your neck I can still taste,
only springing back
into place when I touched it).

But sometimes even without you
I would feel a tightening
in my throat
or the quickening of heartbeat–
you were speeding up time again;
the sky would move
as if on rollerskates above me
and I’d feel the shrink 
and suction in my cells.

Sometimes you kept a few beads 
in your wallet
(for Neruda—Neruda when I want to remember,
you said)

and you would take them out,
one by one, rolling them
between your moonbeam fingers,
enjoying their soft, glassy texture
as they slowly tumbled and bowled
on your skin.Often, you would shave a bead down
precisely (10 minutes here,
78 seconds there; carve out
an extra hour or cut
16 minutes off our drive)
and I would find little curls
in the vacuum bag
or next to your plate
or even—once–
in the front seat
of a friend’s car–
and I knew you had been
trying to find more time
or less time.

And once you handed me 
a bead and said:
here is an extra hour
let’s go have fun
so we spent the hour
like children,
putting hot dogs in strangers’
pockets and, later,
we giggled
while we made love
outside on the grass
(three more beads
against the curtain
of sunshine on the water).

Once, you put a bead
between your teeth
and crushed it
into shards
that dissolved as they scattered.
Then you said we were free:
(you had finally found a way
to make it stop).

Instead, I said, Maybe
invisible pieces hang on 
to our skin;
maybe we keep
the molecules with us
as time dissipates into the air,
and we breathe it in. 


Sarah Etlinger‘s chapbook, Never One for Promises, was released from Kelsay Books in December 2018. Currently, she is an English professor who resides in Milwaukee, WI, with her family. Interests outside of poetry include cooking, traveling, and learning to play the piano.

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