A library in a strange manse.
A dance in progress.
You pull me into the shadows
among the stacks of books
and kiss me long and hard
and I ask: Is this the kiss
described by Chekhov in the short story
I read seventeen times till I finally wrote my own?
Is this the how Scarlet felt kissing Ashley or Rhett?
Is my answering kiss what Maggie May’s
was to the kid who should’ve been back at school,
what Rod Stewart rails against in his song,
If I were young again, I wonder
how would I do it all differently?
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa d'Avila
(for Marie Howe)
A woman attired in a once-white turban
and shabby, flopping sneakers,
a man’s trench coat four sizes large
in Starbucks on Sunrise
asks for hot water from the barista
who hands over a steaming cup without a blink.
The homeless woman bedazzles onlookers
with a toothless smile as shuffles to the service bar
to create a new Starbuck’s brew:
to hot water add: half and half, milk,
sprinkle of chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon,
six packets of sugar, six more into each pocket.
“Can I treat you to a cookie,
a pannino, fruit, yogurt?” I say.
“No thanks, I’m waiting for someone.”
Loneliness, sharp as a porcupine quill,
sharper than a calescent arrow,
pierces the air between us—
a fire-dart stabbing the heart
of Saint Teresa in ecstasy
her love of the divine becomes divine.
Love, our strongest emotion,
though abstract—fills a concrete void
for rich and poor alike.
I want to invite the woman
to come with me, I want to say,
Come home now where love
with love is paid, repaid with love.
But my tongue is sticky with fear.
Double Ekphrastic Poem
—After Ruth Bavetta’s “Camera degli Sposi (The Bridal
Again at loggerheads with you
while the wind whips the branches
of the horse chestnuts outside,
blustering among the conkers
like me, holding onto you.
From the height of the choir loft,
my eye’s perch—the cathedral’s vault,
supported by a shaking flying buttress—
I view a roosting nest.
Huge winds gust, hurling loose plaster
crashing through a stained-glass window:
red, blue, and green crystal shards fall into my pew
with the bloodied white body of a dove,
the smashed unborn eggs splattering vitellus
like a painter’s maddened,
feral strokes of summer gold
on a pastoral mural. The dove’s coat
a myriad of hues, harkens an image
of a peering peacock,
a miniature of the one
in the 1474 ocular ceiling fresco
by Andrea Mantegna in the Palazzo Ducale.
And I am faint with memory.
His wallet holds pictures
of when we were young,
first married and had our son.
Objects in our dresser drawers,
tell stories beyond
epiphanies in great literature,
the pale blue mohair sweater,
I cut a hole in and said it was a moth,
ecstasy in plastic:
the black sequined jacket,
a silk dress with spaghetti straps
and falling out of closets
a broken tennis racquet,
a baseball glove soft and supple
with years of catching in the outfield
a hockey stick, initials burned in at the curve
gold, silver and mauve leather strap sandals,
you called “putanna shoes”
in which I danced till 3 am on New Year’s Eve
danced, with everyone but you.
on our mantelpiece,
black lacquered box
We’ve tread the razor’s edge
of hate and love
rapture and despair
incandescence and deflation
in America, in Russia
and in China
ferried across rivers: Acherhon
of woe, Cocytus of laments,
Phlegethon of fire,
Lethe of forgetfulness,
and still we ride the waves
of the Styx,
remaining in the world
of the living until it’s time to part.
The Star of Bethlehem
I am a camel in souk,
drinking water from a sheepskin,
listening to the drovers
bid for my services.
I yank free of my tether to nudge
a young boy gawking about.
“Bid more, fool, I’m really good.”
He looks away so I bit him in the ass.
He smells of sheep. I paw the earth.
And his rage surges purple.
The boy’s name is Mohammed Abdul ben Amuzech,
and as we stare at each other
in the cold dawn of this Moroccan day,
he finally smiles,
happy to have won me in the bidding,
forgiving me for wounding his bony buttocks.
We make peace.
He needs to mount and ride
me into the desert
from the Kasbah camped at an oasis
under date palms many hours’ ride from here.
Though I had dreams of a windjammer,
instead of crossing a camel-dung,
sheep littered outpost.
Tonight we bed down at a caravanserai.
Be kind to the master—a good rule to live by,
remember, he’ll bite your ear for the hell of it.
I’ve learned to buck
out of sheer exuberance.
I think back at sunrise,
to a sunny day when my past master
hid away his daughter, lest she be led astray.
Beautiful girl soul, my shining star. Oh how I miss her.
She was a crushed flower, half-dead—
her scent perfumed the air
like night-blooming jasmine.
Around her I could leap and jump.
“He was,” she used to say of me,
“the most comely of beasts.”
I wonder how she meant that.
I will again seek her out
in the harem of the sheik
with this boy’s incautious help.
I think of myself as a man, master of his destiny.
So I wish and whisper these words to the wind:
“You have been gone from me
days to number stories by Scheherazade,
but I am coming for you, my love.
And so it is. Amen.
I am the Star of Bethlehem.