illustration of hands touching
Paul Spella / The Atlantic

we say, when someone’s
sensitive. So touchy. So
dangerous and delicate and
ready to tip. Touching,
though, is sweet. And we
are touched by the gift,
the thought. Moved
into knowledge of care
if not love. Touched, too,
means crazy. God-kissed.
The brain lit otherwise. I hope
we’ve all known someone
who has got the touch, able
to ease a knot, make any machine
hum true, tune a string. And
Touch me, says Kunitz
in the poem that always chokes
me up. As if the hand of a wife
would bring me back
to myself or to the selves
we both once were. Don’t
touch: first warning.
The stove, the open socket’s
shock, the body unknown
to you and all the bodies
it, in turn, has, willfully
or not, allowed such
intimacy. When I first
felt yearning for the skin
I always kept hidden
to touch another’s
hidden skin, it was
the early decade of a different
terrible virus. The danger
was known and unknown
both, and in some small
way, the risk of infection
was not unlike the risk
of intimacy. In touch, when
we know how someone
is faring. Touch and go,
when we’re not sure
how things will turn out.