The caress is stranger than we give it credit for
and in the wrong hands can hurt us more
than a tight fist, or a black boot
to the right place, or even the terrible truth

that we’ve all been handed down life,
a solitary sentence in the cell of the body.
But more than the endless gushing of speech
or the beautiful fumbling of music, the caress is rife

with possibilities: for the condemned to reach
each other, for the delicate seaming of body
to alien body. It’s the frantic tapping
on the walls between us, our desperate singing, each to each.

The caress, we’re told, is a gentle mapping
to which both surrender, by no means a trapping
or taming. The way an open hand must trace
the form and features of a naked face.

It cannot seize or squeeze or alter,
can only follow the contours of an offered body.
But somehow your open hand went all the way
through me, in your black knickers, your red halter

top you caressed me like a sculptor shaping clay.
You were so well hidden in your body.
When you touched me what song did you sing?
Were you adding or taking away?