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The Cinnamon Peeler, By MICHAEL ONDAATJE

If I were a cinnamon peeler

I would ride your bed

and leave the yellow bark dust

on your pillow.

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Your breasts and shoulders would reek

you could never walk through markets

without the profession of my fingers

floating over you. The blind would

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stumble certain of whom they approached

though you might bathe

under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh

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at this smooth pasture

neighbour to your hair

or the crease

that cuts your back. This ankle.

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You will be known among strangers

as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you

before marriage

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never touch you

--your keen nosed mother, your rough

brothers.

I buried my hands

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in saffron, disguised them

over smoking tar,

helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once

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I touched you in water

and our bodies remained free,

you could hold me and be blind of smell.

You climbed the bank and said

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this is how you touch other women

the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s

daughter.

And you searched your arms

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for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it

to be the lime burner’s daughter

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left with no trace

as if not spoken to in the act of love

as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

From “The Cinnamon Peeler” (Knopf: $19.; 194 pp.). 1991 by Michael Ondaatje. Reprinted by permission.

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