"The Small Country"

Unique, I think, is the Scottishtartle , that hesitation

when introducing someone whose name you’re forgotten.


And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say

running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?


Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?


And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?


What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air

when you boil jam in early summer?


What words reach the way I touched you last night –

as though I had never known a woman – an explorer,

wholly curious to discover each particular

fold and hollow, without guide,

not even the mirror of my own body.


Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.

You said you never really noticed them before.

What is the word that fuses this freshness

with the pity of having missed it?


And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,

even in this small country of our bed,

even in this language with only two native speakers.

                                                Ellen Bass (b. 1947)