There was a woman I made love to and I remembered how, holding her small shoulders in my hands sometimes, I felt a violent wonder at her presence like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat, muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish called pumpkinseed.(lines 16-23)
This is a pastoral poem, so it makes sense that even the act of sex is a celebration of natural scenery. The speaker has a very mature perspective of sex. He can talk about it openly without being juvenile or focusing on the pleasure that it gives him. He tries to uncover the source of his desire, which doesn’t have much to do with sex at all. The sudden shift into memory in these lines makes the encounter with the woman all the more mysterious.
It hardly had to do with her. Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances. I must have been the same to her. (lines 23-25)
We can imagine someone getting really offended if he/she knows that their lover thinks his or her desire "hardly had to do" with him/her. But, is it really so offensive? If that’s the way things are, then he is just being honest, and honesty is a very important part of any close relationship. Plus, she is associated with really happy memories, which can be kind of flattering. Most importantly, the speaker seems perfectly comfortable with the idea that she can relive her own memories through him.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread, the thing her father said that hurt her, what she dreamed. (lines 26-28)
The relationship with the woman is more than just sexual, more than just a random hook-up. He eats with her, discusses her family history, and listens to her dreams. How does this change the way that we feel about the speaker?
There are moments when the body is as numinous as words, days that are the good flesh continuing. (lines 28-29)
Um, we imagine that those "moments" might have something to do with sex. Even the days are erotic when he compares them to "good flesh." In this poem, sex is one of the ways we connect the world of particulars with the world of ideas.