Poetry by Anne Whitehouse

Art by Collin Beck

She Tossed Her Head

She tossed her head, and I fell in love—

it was that muscle at the side of her neck,

her sternocleidomastoid

like a skein of silk from jaw to collarbone,

gracefully moving just below the surface of her skin

when she tilted her head, or flexed or extended her neck.

We were the only women in our class of bodyworkers.

She asked me to ease the tension in her shoulders

when she had a headache or a pain in her neck.

Only after I’d released the other muscles

did I take up her sternocleidomastoid,

lifting and gently compressing it

between my fingers.

The main artery to the brain lies under

and to the side of it, so you can’t dig into it.

Vulnerably placed, as near naked

as a muscle can be, it must be approached

delicately and carefully, soothed with a caress.

She trusted me, and I trusted her.

It’s also true that I was jealous of the way

men looked at her and not at me.

But she shed beauty like light;

I basked in it, and it warmed me.

My touch on her was therapeutic.

And what I did for her, she did for me.

As we found out, we were both lost souls

of different sorts, survivors of unhappy childhoods,

who’d come to bodywork because we were damaged,

and now were healed, and wanted to heal others.

I love what I do. I’m generally satisfied.

But sometimes a yearning comes over me

like the ineffable wildness of springtime.

My breathing is shallow, my head aches,

and my hand finds the curve of my neck,

feeling for that smooth, sexy muscle,

following it with sensitive fingers

from the back of my skull and behind my ear

to sternum and collarbone. And under it,

the pulse of arterial blood that is my own life.

Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower, her second from Dos Madres Press (2016). Her novel Fall Love has just been published in Spanish translation as Amigos y Amantes. 2016 honors include Songs of Eretz’s, RhymeOn!’s, Common Good Books’, and Fitzgerald Museum’s poetry prizes. Visit her at AnneWhitehouse.com.

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