The Danger of Wisdom
We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable. We go hungry
amid the giant granaries
this world is. We store up plenty
for when we are old and mild.
It is our strength that deprives us.
Like Keats listening to the doctor
who said the best thing for
tuberculosis was to eat only one
slice of bread and a fragment
of fish each day. Keats starved
himself to death because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne.
Emerson and his wife decided to make
love sparingly in order to accumulate
his passion. We are taught to be
moderate. To live intelligently.
What Every Woman Should Carry
My mother gave me the prayer to Saint Theresa.
I added a used tube ticket, kleenex,
several Polo mints (furry), a tampon, pesetas,
a florin. Not wishing to be presumptuous,
not trusting you either, a pack of 3.
I have a pen. There is space for my guardian
angel, she has to fold her wings. Passport.
A key. Anguish, at what I said/didn’t say
when once you needed/didn’t need me. Anadin.
A credit card. His face the last time,
my impatience, my useless youth.
That empty sack, my heart. A box of matches.
La Boda del Mar y Arena
If we, for long enough, look,
with the clean eyes of children
at what this big house is saying,
we will start to understand
the language of our parents,
what the salt means.
I do not want to marry the wind
who leaves me things the color of gold,
whose tracks mark a serpent round the house.
More, more than parrots, more than gold,
I want my love to know my ear.
My love, I want to know your ear, & in this
instant that is as long as my life, I stand,
rigged with bones, beside the window:
beneath the purple dark of evening coming,
the sea & beach move into each other’s mouths
particle by particle; each one wanders
the big rooms of the other.
O, god, let us love
like they love.
They’re at that stage where so much desire streams between them, so
frank need and want,
so much absorption in the other and the self and the self-admiring entity
and unity they make—
her mouth so full, breast so lifted, head thrown back so far in her
at his laughter,
he so solid, planted, oaky, firm, so resonantly factual in the headiness of
being craved so,
she almost wreathed upon him as they intertwine again, touch again,
cheek, lip, shoulder, brow,
every glance moving toward the sexual, every glance away soaring back
flame into the sexual—
that just to watch them is to feel again that hitching in the groin, that fill-
ing of the heart,
the old, sore heart, the battered, foundered, faithful heart, snorting again,
stamping in its stall.
He saw it everywhere.
The inevitable folding of a wave,
the patient flood of lava
traveling toward him.
He saw birds die in flight,
felt a leaf release itself in his stomach.
We become rock, he thought.
The sun, somewhere, is always rising
and setting. The earth bubbles,
driving a volcanic neck
smoking from the ocean.
No island is an island,
he said. There is no new land,
just the same body broken open.
lessons never learned…
It’s true I lived in the twilight of empire,
the glow at the center already muffled in rumor,
the provinces indistinct, conspiratorial,
alliances like sand falling through the tired fingers of diplomats
while the orators held forth endlessly in the splendor of their halls.
Yet many believed grand days were still ahead of us–
and how, in this, were we different from any age?
There were the usual cabals,
careers to be made among court intrigues
as the wheels of dynasty ground slowly through a calendar of ceremonies.
Slaves peeked out from invisibility from time to time–
an eye, an open mouth, an arm raised then subdued–
and we knew of warrens near the public temples
where plague ruled and flesh was coinage.
But laws and executions gave us a sense of protection,
and there were holidays and amusements,
abundance in the markets for those who had means of exchange,
and tribute still coming in along our fabled roads.
At the outposts, war on small war–
so many, when I think back I lose track of them all:
incursions in the forests, seizures of islands,
fiefdoms defended or toppled among odd sects in the desert.
We took our reports from the centurions
and, when we weren’t too busy or tired of it all,
discussed the day-to-day triumphs of the legions abroad.
We knew the most important concerns are close to home.
Our vineyards were narrow but well cultivated,
our marriages reasonable.
Faced with confusion, we were content to wait through it.
We placed our trust in character and good management.
Like others, we had our gods and offerings,
our games of chance, the oracles with their mysteries.
When we thought about the future, we saw our goals
as shimmering ideals, simple and universally shared
except by those who wished to do us harm.
We were a generous people and kept our hearts open.
My hands, my fists, my small bells
of exact joy,
clappers cut out
because they have lied.
And your tongue:
like a burnt string
it holds its shape until
you try to lift it.
We’re sewn into each other
like money in a miser’s coat.
Don’t cry. Your wounds are
beautiful if you’ll love mine.
The young are walking on the riverbank
arms around each other’s waist and shoulders,
pretending to be looking at the waterlilies
and what might be a nest of some kind, over
there, which two who are clamped together
mouth to mouth have forgotten about.
The others, making courteous detours
around them, talk, stop talking, kiss.
They can see no one older than themselves.
It’s their river. They’ve got all day.
Seeing’s not everything. At this very
moment the middle-aged are kissing
in the backs of taxis, on the way
to airports and stations. Their mouths and tongues
are soft and powerful and as moist as ever.
Their hands are not inside each other’s clothes
(because of the driver) but locked so tightly
together that it hurts: it may leave marks
on their not of course youthful skin, which they won’t
notice. They too may have futures.