A Poem in Voices
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,
which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely
disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is
That magpie gave the damnedest laugh
I ever heard. Toughened, bitten people
Spit on their palms, but me I slip my hand
Beneath her skirt and thumb her thighs.
She embraces the liquor cabinet, finds
A potion to quicken the worms in her belly.
She’s a fire pit, a laboratory fake, young,
pretty, and halfway wants me dead. I watch
Her sleep, thumb a hefty plug of bourbon.
Like this—right. It’s enough, almost too much.
Nothing comes in the usual way, but by
All these alchemies of misunderstanding.
The Blue Jirl
She is neither cold nor hard and her dog
Is just as blue as she is. The color blue.
She is more conscious of her blueness
Than aware of her own nekkidness, her
Long and boney nose, her four fingers
On her left hand and six on her right, or
The little potbelly she rubs like a magic lamp.
Blue light and blue water and burnt orange
Beach beyond her canted hips; the dog’s
Head bars my eyes from seeing their darkened
Wedge or what I must only assume is dark.
She has a tiny moue of a mouth and no eye
Lashes; a scar runs from her chin to her
Left breast in a graceful curved smile.
Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing not
The perfection of the odalisque tradition.
She simpers and whines, though, quite
Out of keeping with her stateliness, her
Sang-froid, her attention to the moment,
Which is keen as any Zen priest’s
In its sucking up of all that she creates.
She rises, she walks, and her dog follows.
Her rump glitters gold and a white star
Floats between those two cupped crescents.
She turns and says, “My wit-dream, you.”
And for the first time all is clear and all
I have ever wanted of love smashes her
Out of all memory, leaving only her blue.
I see her still as a face on a stone,
A body one cube of granite, even
Her neck buried, her chin resting on the flat,
Angled surface, what would be painful
To any flesh and blood woman.
So, nothing there to dream into sex
And nothing to hold in your arms.
I still want to kiss her lips,
Though I could not take her hands.
Even to herself, she was without desire.
A man might kneel and lay his head
Next to hers and wonder what
She is thinking and sense only the air
Between his eyes and hers and the skin
Of thought taut between cheek and cheek.
I have tried to shape, to shape her breasts
And measure the space between her knees
And imagine my finger sliding along
The flesh where her buttock meets her thigh,
And taste the sweat I found gathered there.
She smiles. She smiles. She smiles.
I vanish like a harbor in fog, groaning.
The Long Wood Box
The creature, a water dancer, writhed
And begged me to touch her there.
I didn’t understand until she smiled
That this was not part of the show.
Later, in my bedroom, we made love
Time after time and we made marks
On the bed sheets with her lipstick:
A zero for hers, a minus for mine.
There were far more circles than lines.
I came back to the room and she was
Nowhere to be seen. I found her
Beneath my robe, asleep. She said,
“You must never leave me.” I argued
With her when she said she must go
Home to sleep. “You must never leave,”
I said. She picked up a long wood box
Carved with faces overlapping each
Other like waves fading out on sand.
“We must fill it with flowers,” she said.
“It’s already full,” I replied, but didn’t
Tell her what it did and did not hold.
Under a billowing canopy in the square
She filled her hands with white trumpet
Vine blossoms and begged me to find
A flower I could put behind her ear.
I left her for a moment and when I
Returned, she was gone, the box too,
Taking all that had hurt me except her.
She had one grey eye, one orange,
And gala lighting in her smile; she made
Me pet the edge of her square love
And melted the round edge of mine
Into a green cup she sipped and spit.
I never knew the color of her hair
Or the shape of her breast and belly.
Her legs were all knee and ankle,
And her thighs came together, thumbs
Opposing fingers in a sign of consent.
Indulgence in paradox. What woman
Cares when a man complains of such?
She whispers in her fist, cocks a brow,
Staring off into the division of space.
Her emotions despised her intellect,
A landscape painter’s low point of view
Capturing a moon among livid leaves.
So, though she kissed my brain each day
With her fingers, her lips were reserved
For the guy who threw her downstairs.
Fucking, for her, was the last deception,
The final appeasement of the red demon
That lived only in her still-girlish cunt,
And stilled her heart with a dart of dream.
When we met twenty-seven years later,
We walked hand in hand in the street.
The only thing she wanted to know
Was did I ever murder her in my sleep.
I, her toreador, her cape and sword.
He, her bull. Oh, how she made us suffer.
“What skeleton,” she’d say, “isn’t an object
Of fun? What pricked blood doesn’t profane
Roses?” Her smile bared crooked teeth.
Kissing, her tongue never left your mouth.
She made us flank her in the street, two
Grinning corpses she held erect gripping
Our spines, her fingers laced in dry ribs.
People wondered if she’d picked us
Clean. She had sufficient flesh for three.
You ask? You have to ask? There is no
Dimension of habitude, no consciousness
Of degree, no adequacy of determination
To indemnify her eyes. Onyx eyes.
Those eyes never left your emptiness.
He dissolved eventually, quickly replaced.
Nothing changed. A favorite slapped,
A secret winked, a nipple pinched.
Her empty hips smothered us to sleep.
Late and soon, she forgot breathing.
My knees left white marks on the floor.
A poet wrote sonnets to two lovers,
a cat and a crow, or so I am told.
She moved lithely, with mad divagation.
When I appeared at the window,
She chattered like a squirrel at war.
On dark beaches, I swear it, the gulls
Lit her sleek back with headlight eyes.
On the boardwalk I tugged at straws,
Never once unplugging that honey,
While she marched about with rat
Tails in her teeth the studs made her take.
Did she ever look beyond the harbor
Lights or yearn to lick the face
Of the moon or dream of climbing
Ladders? She found me at last,
Out cold from striking a blue sky
Wall. Shunning my feathers and guts,
She nosed my beak. I awoke croaking,
Unable to fly. Solemn, she flung me
Where the tide furled and unfurled
A blanket of sand that I would not resist.
They found only a headstone of claws.
The blue of her cheeks is the same
As the blue of her eyes, the same as
The blue of her hair, the same as
The blue of her tongue and teeth.
She stood upon my breast and hip
Crying to the sky and clapping sword
And bread together flinging perfect
Slices across the cement beach. She
Dangled a reddened shrunken head by
The ear and asked me which profile
She thought was his best. She did
That with all her shrunken heads.
The magpies ate crow meat at her table
And the leopard she tamed with her
Thighs later became my pajamas.
She could draw like Fra Lippo Lippi
And out sing Marlene Dietrich and she
Thought herself beautiful as octopuses.
I slept through her day or crept beneath
The house with her concubines. She
Kept two for each hand and never kissed
Me once without wiping her lips after
On the lips of two of those sad creatures.
I once dared to ask about her halo.
Her answer put a hundred pounds on my
Slight frame and nearly broke my spine.
I puked for weeks and dreamed of god’s
Certain love for the creature I called
My mistress once, who called my boys
Her purification of my semen. The end
Came when I rolled over and she fell.
The end fell when she rolled over and came.
He painted the Holy Virgin as Athena
And knelt before her when she came
To life in his studio, when the flowers
In the carpet came to life beneath her
Feet, when the blue-sky mural he’d made
Above the archway became blue sky,
And all his songbirds dropped dead
In their cage out of immediate terror.
The creature commanded him to rise
And dropped the palm frond he’d given
Her and passed her hand over it, smiling.
Here, he thought, is the ideal woman!
She passed her hand again across the air
Between them, cutting it fine, a dust
Sword caught in the sunray risen above
The door. A diamond in her nostril glinted.
She pulled aside her robe to reveal the tattoo
On her left breast—a bite-red lipstick kiss.
Some images are harder to manage.
I know I am only paint, this within
What I will keep from closing in as long
As you don’t cut me out and roll me up
Only to bind me again in a tighter frame.
Look at me. My body is shaped
Like a mountain, my toes resemble
Lichens, and the sand from my cheeks
And the shadow from under my chin lie
About my big blue dress like the rest of life.
The hills have ears and a coarse wattle
And the light is as flat as my barren chest.
Yet, you cannot look at me without passion.
You cannot ignore my arousal of hope.
You close your eyes and wish to spend
An hour with any woman in the universe,
At whatever age she appealed most to you—
A Marilyn or Eva at twenty, at thirty,
Your own wife on your wedding night—
And you find it hard to choose between us.
Just as I could not see her eyes, but she
Could see mine, the veil turned our love
Into an affair that only one of us could
Remember; or that, at least, is how I
Let it trouble me at the time. Mourning
Was a part-time pleasure she practiced
Whenever a man paid her a moment’s
Attention. I never saw the smile
She offered in return diminish for even
A moment, nor intensify. It hurt too much,
She once explained. It hurt too much to move.
Never confessing the source of her sorrow,
She would only grasp the lace fringes
Of her wan abandonment and turn away.
I learned too late of her departure. She never
Wrote to explain, not that I had a right
To claim sufficient hold on her perceptions.
I took it as well as any man without a hope
Of happiness can. I put her from my thoughts.
Until one day I saw her. She was without
Her veil and her eyes shone as though blinking
Away tears of laughter, or joy at least, and her
Hands were old. Her hands were as old as stone.
Her hands that had rubbed the veil into dust.
Her ferocity in articulation bent
Stone and balanced a martini glass
On a playing card. “Nothing’s impossible,”
She would mouth and lick the tip
Of her nose. The nurses told me that
The surgery had left two small purses
Beneath her arms that they swabbed
With disinfectant every other moment.
She remained my perfect girl, golden-
Browed and green-eyed as the sea.
She’d say, “No, that’s the sky you see
Through a hole they made in my head.”
She complained of dreams with no
Plot, character, meaning, or emotion:
Two of us, cube and ball, each pinched
Like cheeks holding the stamp of affection,
Rest on a blind boob as clouds come
Or go without shape or color changing.
When she died, I sat in the park and wept
Until lightning cauterized my eyes.
Snowflakes, with that lovely wrist roll
And waist bow, a dozen young women
Emulating each other perfectly and gone
Wide the one whose chalked cheeks blaze.
She cannot find her way back again
Through the sprung rhythms of her error
And the feet she dreams she sees
Stenciled in gold on the dance floor.
A New Eve
On the copper roof large raindrops,
Like golden coins tossed on a dresser,
But the perspective is canted, impossible.
What has the sun got to do with anything?
At least that’s what the young mother wonders
Waiting for her husband to pull his nose
From the wall in which it is encased like a knife
In its sheath, like his member in her sheath,
Like his tongue in its crumbling temple of teeth.
She boils his shit-caked drawers in a cauldron
They used to bath in on Sundays until the rains
Returned, the first time they danced since the baby.
Everywhere knives sever the taut cords
In the necks and bellies and hindquarters
Of goats and sheep and black-tongued men.
Why, she wonders, do they bother sparing hers?
Last autumn, the roof caught fire and her brother
Fell, a bucket over his head, to the bottom of the well.
Her sister three drunk boys played wishbone with;
though they’ve told the story, so that it’s told
and told again all over the neighborhood, they’ve
never even hinted at the location of her bones.
Of course, her mother and her father loved each
Of them equally, and each other, and they died
Happy to have watched the sunset diminish
A day that at least had not been as dark as hers.
Those were her mother’s words when she asked.
Those were her father’s words when she asked.
One bright boy with a golden fan had run across
Her bare toes and left her cheeks slapped red.
Oh, why had he not come back into the room
After the celebration had left the tables hers to wash?
Another had shot his arrows through golden rings
A hundred feet on a foggy afternoon and left her,
For the first and only time, with the sense of gravity
In her breasts and a faint ringing in her ears. Death
Would come like the baby, hard work and hard pain.
No one complained of such things, nor would she.
But in the harbor the ships grew small in the blue,
Their sails flapping like bed sheets hiding ardor.
Black cat scenario: surprised, twisting
The stray’s neck, he genuflected
And it squirted under the bed.
How could I be sure he loved me?
That night my green lipstick left
A smudge on his teeth he couldn’t
Erase with alcohol and steel wool.
Sometimes I think with my fingers too.
He never let me leave my room
After that. The anger broke his teeth.
The vane stem of the windmill
Was connected to nothing at either end.
They found the livestock starved,
And the horse with its hooves in the air.
They had to burn down the veal house,
And she sold the rest to the bank.
It never occurred to me that he
was at all wrong about it. Not once.
Combing Her Hair
I’ve heard you say that someday we’ll meet,
I’ve heard you say that I will dream of you.
The comb is black and sharp and toothed
Like the baleen of a whale and when it passes
Through your hair the world falls into place.
Other women watch and smile and their lips
Form small kisses I cannot reap in time. I find
You asleep with that sea of tresses drowning
The faint flush of your throat and the rouge
Washed from all but the deepest creases
That make a dry delta of the years your eyes
Have watched between a billion blinks and winces.
I see you clutch your comb with three fingers
Cut by the tines and pinky extended as if
It would avert a demonstration of needless guilt.
I’ve also heard you snore in your sleep like a cat
Purring with neutered lust for its master’s hand
And not known the difference when we
Wove our knees and our fingers together.
I loved the amber leaf you brought to my desk
That took but an hour in the dry air to shrivel.
Nothing but sun in a dream is a dream of you
Though some contend to dream of sun is death.
The sun scorches the leaves on the trees
As though touching them with your lipstick.
The air your lungs make is a wind in my hair.
Someday we will meet and I will grab the comb
And train each strand to know its other.
Not her name—I called her Star
For her distance, her light years.
She saw closed eyelids in your eyes.
She daubed her lips moon orange
And hid her small breasts with blue
Flowers and white leafless branches.
Her flesh smelled like burnt corn
And her thighs stopped comets.
She turned at the corner and said,
“I want you to find me. Will you?”
We spent a week entwined and she
Never moved within a league of me.
Eraser-nippled, she removed me
From the darkness and never returned.
Empty room and precarious balance
Of hat and stick, whiskey jar and skull.
Empty of her, that is, and empty
Of her perfume, if not her scent.
Triangles and rulers, French curve
And conic section, a Klein bottle,
And, on the floor, the wan palette
And stiff brushes. The skull bites
A bungie cord hooked to a rafter.
A candle throws a cloud of light
Under the golden section of a bed.
Leaning against the fireplace, her
Masterpiece turns green in humid
Air the light fights with for love.
A New Eve II
We flew ten hours with butterscotch
Vomit on her dress, through pinwheeling
Clouds and mountainous holes in air,
Only to arrive in light licked clean
By god, with each feminine nipple hung
For the eye to pluck. On the tarmac,
She ripped off her gown and, braless in
Black intimate, strutted up to accept her lei.
They all look at me with the same eyes:
Mother, wife, daughter, her daughter.
Pine sap discolors the lacquer table
We bring out only for summer tea.
I sip from a cracked cup and return
Their stares without asking the question.
The clouds float beyond branches
Like supine women dreaming of labor.
In this sepulcher of dreams, each
Concrete box has a golden handle
Inscribed with three letters.
This grip could be on that one
And that could be on this.
Only the initials are different.
Break open these old tombs, my dear,
And drink up their bitter laughter.