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Cinnamon Peelers Wife By Michael Ondaatje


If I were a cinnamon peeler 
I would ride your bed 
And leave the yellow bark dust 
On your pillow. 

Your breasts and shoulders would reek 
You could never walk through markets 
without the profession of my fingers 
floating over you. The blind would 
stumble certain of whom they approached

though you might bathe 
under rain gutters, monsoon. 

Here on the upper thigh 
at this smooth pasture 
neighbour to you hair 
or the crease 
that cuts your back. This ankle. 
You will be known among strangers 
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.


I could hardly glance at you 
before marriage 
never touch you 
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers. 
I buried my hands 
in saffron, disguised them 
over smoking tar, 
helped the honey gatherers... 

When we swam once 
I touched you in the water 
and our bodies remained free, 
you could hold me and be blind of smell. 
you climbed the bank and said 

this is how you touch other women 
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter. 
And you searched your arms 
for the missing perfume 

and knew 

what good is it 
to be the lime burner's daughter 
left with no trace 
as if not spoken to in the act of love 
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar. 

You touched 
your belly to my hands 
in the dry air and said 
I am the cinnamon 
Peeler's wife. Smell me.


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