Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Dear Udnie, Part 1

"My Dear Udnie" is one of what I call my "voices poems." Each stanza is a separate voice, though not necessarily a separate person. It was written in 1986 after a number of visits to great museums, including the Hirshorn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the National Gallery. I bought postcards of great paintings I'd seen at each museum and these stacked up on my writing desk. Eventually, I composed this poem with each stanza prompted by a single painting. The poem was published in 1987, but this is the first time it has appeared with the artwork that inspired it. (Part Two is here  , Part Three is here  .)

                                                   MY DEAR UDNIE

Your face is energy beauty expends
in the gilded bust green in blue lamplight.
Molded by thumbs, the lumpish moon ascends
to fright the sky and hush the dream of night.
Steeple, cornice, dome, gable, pyramid—
today I must speak to you in flat roofs,
simple boxes, as to a crown amid
capitals, monumental and aloof.
Who did these paintings in my studio?
I’ve kissed that flesh, rubbed it raw as roses.
Who did these paintings?  Do you know?
You’ve sat for me in similar poses?
It’s one thirty.  We should go to our homes.
Maybe next time we won’t just walk these streets,
adding to the shadows.  We’ll talk in poems,
let them distinguish the truth from deceit.
Lovers stare at themselves through a window—
faces motionless behind glass and frame.
Blinking unseen, they’re bored by what they know.
Either might break a smile and nothing change.
You are my private demon in this hell,
my love.  A lady who carries a fan,
soothingly forever saying farewell.
Give the fan to me and wave your hand.
All thought of you is memory in abstract—
congeries of blades and thudding saps.
A nice nose, long-licking tongue: discrete facts
hold harmless stupid phrases, futile haps.
You are like to god as stones multiplying arcs.
I don’t say this to anger you, but explain
the hard singularity of your remarks,
which leave me faithless on a pebbled plain.
We all dreamt deserts in rainbow clothes,
wanderers following mirages of love.
A lioness breathed on me, whispering oaths—
the moon’s kiss a slap of a limp glove.
You see a candle in the mirror, cry
tears of a skull couched in a maiden’s lap.
Her breasts grow white and rigid, calcify—
orgasms crack in the cranial gap.
The life inside my soul is a black crow
kissed and stroked by flesh I can’t control.
No old boy, no new man is not my foe.
I give myself to each to char his soul.

New crystal, blown white hot from inside—
cool simplicity, single purposes.
It changes when faceted, like a bride—
innerness revealed in spectral surfaces.

My Dear Udnie, Part 2


She’s flat-chested and bald between her legs,

just like me.  Not exactly.  More tummy.

But she has three boys who moon and beg,

who don’t even care if she’s a dummy!

Sister says reflections off pump and pearl

will make a window of a girl’s dress.

I know boys who laugh with their eyes, so sure

of success—if not I, then others undress.

Yeah, they were naked all right, the whores,

jiggling, cooing, squatting, touching themselves.

About as exciting as two-by-fours.

I took a big one—boobs like swinging bells.


I stretch every minute looking to see

that we’re still here beneath this crooked butte.

A short nap has creased my unworthy dreams.

Alone, she’d trade the sun her red suit.

I wonder what he’s like on trapeze?

She locks her legs about his waist and must

feel it.  That and the way he grabs her knees

And dives between them, flying with lust!

Later, she said, Lover, you are a top,

spinning madly.  Clear the floor and drill

the points of the compass until we drop

down blurred dimensions, dizzy, almost ill.


Holding hands, the five dancers circle

on rippling grass, naked in spirit.

As the dance turns each dancer’s miracle,

the virgin breaks the ring without regret.

The truest is the dawn dream.  Fair bodies

bathe in cool waters, or pluck roses

for the golden basket.  Stirred, she flees

the crescent-moon-crowned bull’s hypnosis.

Pregnant, your belly grew longer, then round.

Your breasts too.  Painful for you.  Not for me.

I watched you sleeping nude and listened, found

a new life swimming in an ancient sea.

If there’s nothing but eyes to justify

her expense, what is all this darkness?

She ignores the child.  When I get mad, she cries.

Mother laughs, thinking, poetic justice.

Our breakfast room is a chapel of light

where my husband prays to the newspapers.

It has been years.  We no longer fight.

I serve him currant jelly with capers.

My Dear Udnie, Part 3


I’m in diamonds.  I do my best to provide.

But last night my wife acted out a strange scene.

God knows she was absolutely pie-eyed.

Dressed only in a bow, she grabbed my thing!

Solitaire sprawled on the rug with the dog—

goddamned loneliness, card game, my burnt knees,

the wallpaper samples in that catalog!

He says he’s good when he isn’t with me!

I buy this bird.  It’s dead but soft.  Nice.  Soft.

My woman could make nothing of these others.

So many birds you’ve brought down from aloft.

Shut up!  I don’t bargain with her lovers.


 These women never let us get things done.

It’s such a basic thing to hang a man

on a cross.  And he’s not even their son.

I suppose they must do what they can.

The women weary of calling their men

to lunch they’ve made in the golden hay fields.

Harvest is a working madness for them.

They eat, to the sound of scythes, poverty’s meal.

Hurry!  The night finds the darkness.  The sea

will empty before our lamps are lit!

The fish peck eyes that can no longer see.

Hungry, we work to milk our mother’s tit.


 She is the only woman left who has her hair.

Alone, in that shattered window, she sits,

nourished by food she gets from god knows where,

while I lug starving corpses to the pits.

Come, Perfect Fool!  I’ll tell your fortune,

while my girls cut your purse, pick your pocket.

I predict a fall in self-satisfaction.

You have a brain, but your actions mock it.

The sockets in the skull have been worn to

pinholes.  The jaw is a flower of flakes

in a desert stretched from red hills to blue

lakes, blooming for a dead man’s dead wife’s sake.


See?  Here she is.  No man held her life.

Barbed wire and bullets were to no avail.

How swift a bird to fly above the knife.

Her body is still warm.  Her eyes are pale.

Trees are a curse on the moon, which is far

and updateless, while they stand here and grow.

My eyes stir a whirlpool of dim stars;

Diving for death, I see her and follow.

Udnie, my dear one, I see you idealized—

A fervent virgin staring at a house.

You were more than that, I realize—

A god my fervent prayer could not arouse.