I was unprepared for the little surge of pleasure
that rang up my spine as I stepped outside
and felt the wind brush against my arm

Not unlike the sinuous warmth of the sun
pulling from behind passing clouds and pressing
hot life into your freckled, squinting face

Or the pleasurable scald of a bare body
slipping into that steaming bath, each pin-prick
a stitch in the seam at the edge of pleasure and pain

So much made about the sense of touch—
less about the sense of feel, to be touched,
to close eyes, open skin and receive

A finger
the back of your hand

Other nails
threading your shampooed hair,
lightly raking your tingling scalp

Deep-tissue massage,
knuckles pressed into the fascia of bare backs,
pain to unbind pain

Wading out past the break into the cold morning surf,
submerged fingers splayed open to feel
the surge and pull of the hidden current

Cupping the palm of your hand
against your daughter’s cheek,
and having her hand come up to cover yours

and press your father’s hand a little deeper
into her busy face, for just a moment,
without looking up, without a word

Peel Away One Strip

Peel away one strip
then the next—this is the most
we can ask of life


our lives are calling us
always    into action
our minds searching

for itches to scratch
we don’t do it well
just being still    for a while

close your eyes
leave them open
either way

being quiet
stillness is a great frontier

what about your forgotten feet
you could begin there
so assumed    so granted

have you ever noted
the pressure of each foot
resting on the shifting earth

they know so well
better perhaps
than you know them

like a detective
the state of your muscles

unpack your shoulders
unfurl your brow
unclench your jaw

then add back
your smile    because
smiling is always the point

you might set out
for the unexplored country
of your resting hands

you know these well
every crinkle
but did you know

in the perfect stillness
of your lap    if you listen
how they will tingle    vibrate

how they will share with you
quietly offer the story
of every living nerve

do you hear it now
the relief
in the unquiet silence

like stepping out
of the loud party of your mind
onto a secret balcony

to hear the sweetness
of distant cars passing
birds    wind in trees

and your breath
come back
if you will at last

to your own breath
your first home
your first act

from your mother’s womb
before crying    holding    suckling

there was breath
come back to it then
in your blessed stillness

do not assume it
hear it
fill your expanding lungs

feel it
slowly push back
into the waiting world

stay for a while
like a long-neglected friend

watch it    the steady in and out of your life
like you watch your sleeping child
like your mother watched you

try not to worry
your mind will lead you astray
things to do    bits of fantasy

the rehashing of what
cannot be changed
the fear of what does not yet exist

this is where the beautiful engine
that is not you
always wishes to go

like a child
lead it by the hand
ceaselessly back again    again

dig deep
it does not matter
always patiently back

to your secret balcony
your tingling fingers
your resting feet

breathe again    smile
open the door

stillness is a great frontier

Ryan Warren lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area. His poetry and other writings have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Lost Coast Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ekphrastic, The Mindful Word, U.S. 1 and Plum Tree Tavern.
image: father and daughter on the beach via Shutterstock