April is the Coolest Month (Looking Ahead)

March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

photo

I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately, some referring to recent emotionally distressing events/memories, but most feature strange men and vampires trying to kill me, which they have been trying to do since my 20’s. (Before that, it was ghosts, swarms of insects and evil fog.) The cat persistently meowing me to wakefulness, the husband making toast, the sounds of New York in the spring – these are welcome reminders of the little sorrows I really face: working for a living, getting older, remembering to open my mail.

I have a new Macbook Air, which is making me happy. I like all my clients and enjoy editing – novels, memoirs, academic papers, other – except for the inconvenient effect it has of making me want to write my own books.

I’m learning more from editing and from reading self-published novels than I ever did in writing workshops. In particular, watching the writing/reading process minimally obstructed by the publishing industry is fascinating: so many “bad” books are very well liked by readers, maybe not in the tens-of-thousands-sold sense, but in the hundred-plus five-star reviews on Amazon sense.

I’m sorry to have to lost my financial freedom, but I appreciate having work come in over the airwaves – from all over the world at any time of day – meeting strangers and hearing their stories, honing my skills, feeling useful.

But mostly I love walking my city in the spring, buying strawberries and cupcakes, broccoli and tortellini, looking at the young beautiful women, the dreamy-eyed elderly, the street people with their snarly charm, and the groups of teenagers pouring out of the W 4th or 14th Street stations, thirsting for novelty, adorned with attitude.

The nightmares can have my slumber. I want the April days.

A new poet I’ve discovered—

Nothing is Lost

She would emerge from nightmares,
inch by inch, in the kitchen. Perched
on a wooden chair, she hugs her knees
. She is five, wearing a flannel gown
down to her ankles, with blue pistols
scattered over it, for killing mice at night,
her brother said.

The window lights up
like an altar. With her eyes half closed,
she looks at the particles of dust turning
inside the light, landing on the floor,
painted warm chestnut, as Mother
insisted.

The coal stove still unlit,
she hears the breathing of the house,
its sunlit silence rising and falling,
a fly stirring, brushing its wings, buzzing out of the dark corner.
I see her
making room among the shadows,
and remember: nothing is lost
until we miss it.

–Lucyna Prostko

– See more at:

Spring Fever II: Adult Content

April 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

red

One of my devoted fans, after reading Sunday’s entry, asked for one of my sexual memories. It’s a fair request. I took a walk yesterday afternoon and thought about it.

The park in the rain was a soft green, almost empty of people, so different from the frothy party of the weekend when there was a man playing a piano in one corner, a trio with a saxophone in the other, college students on the grass, children and dogs, couples strolling, mimes and dancers.

The emptiness made the spring leaves and blossoms more poignant: what happens as it must, whether you join in or not. What will happen in 1000 years (though possibly further north).

When I lived in Berkeley, in my 20s, one night Charles was out playing music, as he was nearly seven days a week, and I went to a bar. I did that not every night or week, but on some sort of emotional schedule. I had several drinks and went home with a good-looking boy named Randy. Randy was 5’10 or ’11 with tousled sandy hair and a big grin. He drank like a pro.

He was very taken with my breasts. Once he had me naked, he squeezed and stroked and kissed—I lay back, lazy as a cat—and then he said, overcome with enthusiasm, “I have to do more!”

“Okay. What?”

“I don’t know.” He thought for a while. His big, pale body was mostly hairless above his genitals. He was well-built and fit in the way men are before they have to work at it. “I’ll chain them up. Is that okay?”

This was pre-Internet. He got his ideas from magazines.

I laughed. “Whatever you want.” I was drowsy by then. I liked being touched. I liked being touched by different men, especially strangers. Charles knew this and minded, but not so much that he tried to make me stop. I was ashamed of hurting him, but I did it anyway.

Randy got a bicycle chain, brand-new and clean, and wrapped it around my breasts so they were forced together, imprisoned chubby sisters. “I like that,” he said.

“What are you going to do now?” I had a tiny (very tiny) fear that he’d want to actually tie me up, hands behind my back, etc, which I didn’t want. Nor did I want to argue or struggle. I remember that night because it was innocent in its sensuality in a way that I no longer was, but still thought I could return to.

“Nothing,” he said. “I just want to look. You’re amazing.”

I don’t know whether he said “amazing.” I want to put the word “awesome” in his mouth, but it was before that coinage. But he was genuinely awestruck, which is something that also seems vintage. I was a pretty & busty young woman, but he was no mutt. The young men nowadays…or so I’m told….

He spent some time just walking around me, smoking a joint and admiring what he had wrought. (Charles loves this part of the story. He makes me invent details.) Yes, we went on to have intercourse, like everyone else. I hardly remember that part.

I can still feel the chain: the cold metal; the pressure; the feeling of being bound in a way that didn’t constrain my movements; and the dreamy, stoned smile on his face.

***

“Raspberry-colored nipples,” somebody else used to say. He liked to say the same things over and over, like applying layers of paint.

My girlfriend, when I confided this, responded in the time-honored way of girlfriends. I was changing clothes in her room. “Your nipples aren’t raspberry-colored.” Her tone was mildly indignant.

“Not now, they aren’t.”

“I think he’s wearing rose-colored glasses.”

“We tend to dally in the rosy evening light.”

“Or you put lipstick on them.”

“I tried that once. Charles took pictures.”

“Charles would,” she said.

But that was another decade altogether.


Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy

Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
“Is this all there is?” Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.

Terrance Hayes

Out Like a Lamb

March 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

Daffodils

Spring is here and it’s lovely: the thought of little boys visiting, of long evening walks, museums and outdoor cafes, April poetry readings and Delilah’s June wedding. Today I wanted to buy a big bunch of Easter lilies and a chocolate bunny (with a lavender ribbon around his neck) but my fatigue has been intense lately–I couldn’t cope with lines—so I just ambled slowly through the glorious afternoon and came home to welcome aspirin and tea, my little family of husband and cats. We have our problems, but no anger. No insanity, except what I carry around inside me, and that’s the price one pays for dreaming too hard, too stubbornly, demanding to be lifted out of the plod of ordinary life.

Even as a child, before the deaths in the family, I hated the limits of the everyday. Not that my life wasn’t also joyous, but I thought it should be that way all the time, and even more so, beauty bursting to orgasm—and if it took magic to make my days like that, then I’d go find magic.

I looked really hard. I learned to look with my eyes closed, which is the only way to find the best stuff. And the pleasures of that blind choice, that addiction, will never leave me, and for that I am very, very sorry.

Or maybe not. Maybe I don’t know yet. Everything ripens. For now, I want to think about the evenings coming up, April and May, walking under the blossoming trees on 9th St and W. 4th, white petals on the sidewalk, hearing music through open club doors, relaxing into this nearly half-century duet.

We’re poor and I’m tired. I can’t write books anymore. (I type that to goad the gods, who live in the murk of my subconscious, lazy as pigs.) But nobody that matters hates me and every day I feel more in love with all the people I love, and the cats, and the books, and the past and the future.

Happy Good Friday, all of you. I don’t believe in Jesus, but it’s a subtle tale, this worship of one who gave his life for the souls of others. There are only a few human stories and the corrosiveness of guilt, the huge power of forgiveness, and the greater power of temptation cover most of the ground. I’m not thinking of the historical (mythical) Jesus, but of those who give the story the strength to endure—the desire that redemption not only be for me but for everyone. It doesn’t happen, but we want it to.

You can probably tell I’ve spent time at the Cathedral lately. I was too sick (Chronic Fatigue) to make it to the Dante reading, but today I could feel the spirit of Easter, and it was both Christian and Pagan, the dead young man and the Anglo Saxon Eostra, goddess of the month of April. She’s barefoot, she strews flowers, and she never, ever dies.

I think I’ve used this poem before, but so what. It bears rereading.

Spring

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

And all her Silken Flanks with Garlands Drest

April 10, 2012 § 3 Comments

The park was indescribably beautiful tonight. Or this evening, rather, before the light was gone—when it was going, but not in a blue swoon or the slow filtering in of black ink; no, the light was going green, lima bean green, the green of sick on a face, the green of sage. The green of new life lifted from the walked-upon grass, from the curving branches of the old trees, from the in-bending wire and wooden fences. There was green in all of those things, and that green lifted up like a curtain rising from below to make the evening apparent, to remind us that there is no beauty more terrible than the beauty of endings, though beauty numbs the terror and you only feel it later. The earth knows secrets that are so far beyond our puny human self-importance that all fears of harming the “biosphere” recede as I remember how it harms us by being, by leaving, by making us leave, by taking what we have, little by little.

On the way home, with milk, chocolate cookies and catfood, I look at the absurdly big tulips that are everywhere in the city now, their heads the size of eggs: hard yellow, Easter purple, a clear red edged in delicately curling white. The reds take the light the best; I stare at them for minutes. I want to eat them. I want to fold my body inside those red cups, then roll around like a stoned 15-year-old.

The white fringe, on the other hand, is too easy; it reminds me of Bolo’s white feathers as she incessantly groomed herself or preened, tilting her flirty head. Bolo was my friend John’s cockatoo who sat on his shoulder, who pecked little bird-holes in his arms and torso at night—“I have scars all over my body,” he said cheerfully—who was the love of his life.

John was murdered not long ago by a human being, so now, of course, he’s the one I want to spend the evening with, though we were neighbors more than friends and had a meal alone together maybe three times in 20 years.

But I’m not only thinking of melancholy things (okay, maybe I am. Go Twitter if you’d rather). I’m grateful at how open I was to the beauty, which is not always the case anymore. When I was young, beauty flung itself in my face every day; I had to fend if off; I never imagined a time when it wouldn’t be pursing me with insistent seduction, trying to take me to that invisible barrier it hides behind, rubbing my face in the fact that I couldn’t have it. Now weeks can pass when I don’t see beauty as more than a postcard. It’s a lovely day; wish you were here. Oh, I’ll get there sometime.

That green haze in the park, the escape of evening from the earth, which happens exactly as the sun goes down (but who can really say the sun has anything to do with it?) doesn’t ask me to surrender as beauty used to do. I suppose I’m too old. My vitality is gone; there’s nothing for the otherworldly ones to steal, no lover to vanquish.

Lisa said the other night that we must always remember we’ll die, die and be forgotten. I was trying to enjoy my duck with pears. But she wanted to talk about this—she very often wants to talk about it—so we did. There’s something she can’t explain to me; something I can’t explain to her.

Because I know I’m dying, know it as I know what sunlight feels like. I’m not the 9 year old who stared into the mirror the morning after her brother was killed, seeing for the first time the million million cells ablaze with life, feeling all the tender parts of being and was greedy for it, that dance of life and self. She’s gone, that child; I’m dying. Today, tomorrow. Life is hard; death is easy. Thinking about death is hard; others’ deaths are hard; that’s life.

Lisa said that when she’s in bed she stares at a photograph on the wall of a great aunt, childless, and thinks she’ll be like that and I’ll be like that: no claim to the young crawling up the forked paths in the genealogy forest, saying Great-Great-Grandmother, who were you, what was your world like?

But the famed writers and warriors, explorers, philosophers—the spiritual, the daring, the craven, the mad—have left us their books, letters, diaries, grocery lists; and I don’t think I know what their world was like. They adorn my world. They are mine absolutely, and yours absolutely; they are not themselves.

Once I wanted to be famous, “immortal,” as they say (and the earth laughs, knowing that Shakespeare and Homer are like the black ants on my porch in upstate New York, one evening 20 years ago; do I remember the special ones?) Now, alive, it makes no difference if people are thinking of me; if I imagine they’re thinking of me. I’ve had some practice imagining this, trying to wring pleasure or comfort from it, but it makes no difference. What makes a difference is if someone speaks, if someone touches me.

So I’ll be forgotten. I only mourn that I won’t keep forgetting. This is a poem I once knew by heart.

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;

She neither hears nor sees;

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees.

-William Wordsworth

The blossoms on the trees stir up the honey bees

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Ed and friend

Spring came this year with Congress passing the healthcare bill; astrologers will tell you there was a mighty configuration of planets in the sky, not all benign or easy, by any means, but as full of portent as any ancient comet. I only read astrological sites when I have insomnia or am trying to convince myself that whatever is happening is just about to stop happening, so I can’t remember the details. But American politics makes sense if you imagine it controlled by light-years distant lumps of cold stone or boiling gasses, by geometries indifferent to human logic, by the attributes the Greeks saw in their gods—vengeance, jealousy, spite, lust, the coddling of the favored and the inclination to turn a woman your husband has raped into a white cow.

But enough of that. Spring is buds on the trees and flowers up and down 9th St.  Spring is I can take long walks again, and soon will be lured out into the warm dark after dinner. Spring is poetry month and you should sign up here http://www.poets.org/poemADay.php to receive a poem in your inbox everyday.

Spring (May) will also bring the reissue of Charles’ Simic’s book of translations, The Horse has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry, which you must read if you like Simic’s work. In it you will find much that casts light on his poems, though not so much that they’ll come all the way out of the shadows where they hang out between readings, swapping lines and putting them back just in time.

Here’s one of the good ones from the book

LAST NEWS ABOUT THE LITTLE BOX

The little box which contains the world
Fell in love with herself
And conceived
Still another box

The litle box of the little box
Also fell in love with herself
And conceived
Still another little box

And so it went on forever

The world from the little box
Ought to be inside
The last offspring of the little box

But not one of the little boxes
Inside the little box in love with herself
Is the last one

Let’s see you find the world now

–Vasco Popa, trans. Charles Simic

Catfood

May 8, 2009 § 3 Comments

I’m sure there are many cats who would enjoy the raw chicken cutlets beauty contestants stuff in their bras (before they can afford  boob jobs), but my cat likes my hands. He bites the knuckles and the wrists. Today he was pulling up the loose skin on the back of my hands and nipping it, as if to say, See, a little nip and tuck is in order.

He’s decided he likes sleeping in bed with me, which means I get strange dreams when he walks across my body in the middle of the night. Whatever story I’m spinning has to suddenly incorporate nurses or bullies. Last night I was in a supermarket and got into a fight with a young man who was poking me, and ended up with a fat lip (the cat walking on my back started the fight, but the fat lip was my guilty imagination).

And on the theme of small woes, I ran out of Wellbutrin because I procrastinated on emailing the doctor, and to convince myself I wasn’t missing anything went online to look up all its evil side effects. Some sites say, Insomnia, weight loss, increased sexual appetite; some list every affliction known to man, from boils to cancer. It was a fascinating compendium, but I don’t feel I’m dying this week, so I’ve whittled my likely symptoms to carbohydrate craving, yawning, forgetfulness, and feeling like I’ve received a thunderbolt to the head.

Okay, the last one is more desired than apparent. At best I feel a mild sizzle along the outer neurons when I see the bright spring green all this rain has produced.

There’s a beautiful and sad article about Gerard Manley Hopkins in The New Yorker this week, on the occasion of a new biography. His unhappiness is obvious in his work, and I knew something about his life—the constraints of the priesthood, and the belief that his writing was frivolous and self-indulgent. I didn’t know how little regarded he was in his lifetime, as priest or poet, though apparently everyone liked him as a man.

“His soul was too delicate for the rough work we do,” said a fellow Jesuit. Too bad he wasn’t born to the circle of Emerson and Emily Dickinson. Apparently he felt the most kinship with Walt Whitman, which he thought shameful, “Since he is a very great scoundrel.” Yes, I think he needed Walt on one side, Emily on the other. Religion didn’t do much for him except exert so much pressure that he seized on nature as the only acceptable tangible recipient of his passion—and even then he felt guilty. And it wasn’t enough.

Notice how this poem descends into despair

 

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—

  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

  A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,

  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

  Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

 

I didn’t like spring when I was young—too much prettiness and cheer; I felt out of place in it. Autumn was my season. I couldn’t imagine ever liking anything as much as October in the country. But now I prefer spring. I love the blossoming trees, and tulips, and the electric green and even the rain. I like walking after rain toward the river where the streets get more crooked and there’s always a new café to discover. It makes me happy to imagine who lives in all the brownstones with their aprons of steps and Joseph Cornell gardens.

I saw Lisa for dinner and she was trying to figure out why my life isn’t more abundant. It’s too much to explain—it would take a novel of the sort nobody reads anymore. Temperament, circumstance, trauma, choice; choice is the mystery. We also talked about spiritual knowledge. She was struck by and keeps returning to my statement that I don’t expect to ever understand life, that I don’t think it’s possible. She says that she can’t anticipate what she will know 2 or 10 years from now.

I can see why she thinks I’m shutting down possibility, and in fact I would rather feel open to dreams, visions, revelatory conversations and intuitions. I don’t know why it seems so important to think about limits. I’m fascinated by the brain science being done now, yes, and I’m slowly preparing for death and the small deaths of permanent disappointment in love and work.

But I don’t discount change. Do I? I’m not sure. I’m afraid to get my hopes up, in one sense, but in another I feel like I’m living on hope, nothing else, and perhaps that’s the secret; I feel guilty for being so vulnerable and won’t allow myself to see it as juice and joy.

Summertime When The Living is Queasy

April 29, 2009 § 2 Comments

                       Rachel Ruysch, Amsterdam, 1664-1750Rachel Ruysch, Amsterdam, 1664-1750



The tulips should be behind bars like 
    dangerous animals;

They are opening like the mouth of some 
    great African cat,

And I am aware of my heart: it opens and 
    closes

Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of
    me.

The water I taste is warm and salt, like 
    the sea,

And comes from a country far away 
    as health.

--from Tulips, by Sylvia Plath

 




Spring is cresting in Manhattan. The enormous tulips that neighborhood associations started planting everywhere a decade ago are lolling over their little fences, petals spread wide. Red, flame, yellow, cream, blush, purple, mauve and deep pink. In the after-dinner light they glow like moon flowers, and their suggestive droop reminds me of painting—the great Dutch still-life painters, of course, and all the artists who accepted the confines of theme (Christian or Classical, or portraits of the wealthy), choosing to spend their days with naked goddesses, those of the ample, gorgeous flesh: goddesses bathing, picnicking with the girls au naturel, or in the case of Venus, entertaining her similarly naked and chubby son.

Something was lost when artists started openly painting their wives and mistresses. Realism brought a depth of feeling—of sorrow, mortality and the charm of the everyday—but the figures were no longer the most beautiful the painter could imagine, the skin no longer as satiny, faces losing that expression of coy and serene pleasure.

The pleasure for us, in the 20th and 21st centuries, is that we didn’t and don’t often see these goddesses as perfect—too fat, we think, too limpid, faces a little too soft (Ingres’ odalisques excepted). The thrill comes from the artist’s desire poured into paint, flesh as full of light as the most ethereal sunset. It wasn’t only their bodies the artists idealized. The settings, whether forest or bedroom, were female territory. The bountiful goddesses lounged naked without fear.

Their male counterparts may have interfered with mortal women, raping them, turning them into cows and so forth, but the goddesses held their own. They were far more powerful than the Virgin Mary, who could perform miracles but not cuckold God or make her son answer to her whims. They were the women the artist wanted to submit to even as he decided the length of their tresses and the curve of their breasts, surrounding them with pillows, mirrors and tapestries—or trees, dogs and nymphs—as he chose.

This is what feminists call “The tyranny of the male gaze.” I understand the anger of being told, “There are no great female artists because women don’t have genius,” which was still bandied about when I was young, and with the grief felt at the evidence that men value youth and beauty so highly that even the loveliest woman will eventually disappoint.

I suffered from not knowing what the “female gaze” might be, for feeling like a freak for all the things I had in common with ancient goddeses: lust, erotic languor, jealousy, vanity, and most of all the desire for power in both its ‘empowering’ sense and in the wish to meddle cruelly or brilliantly in the lives of others. I wanted these qualities recognized not as those of the slut, the shrew or the castrating bitch, but rather of large-souled goddesses with their all-too-human flaws.

I shed that hope, eventually.

Even so, I was glad to see what the male gaze saw. To know what drove them to art and through life, what pink clouds piled in the evening sky, gleaming rivers, or past-their-prime tulips reminded them of. Beauty is lofty, but give a man a moment and he’ll think of sex.

I think of it too. The nights are warm now and some trees are scattering their blossoms on the sidewalk as others unfurl their colors. The streets are crowded with the young—so much so that the older couples look exotic, and older singles seem out of place, anomalies to be removed by some latter-day Guiliani.

The summer will disappoint. It always has. The year after year of golden social life, Europe and the Hamptons, Maine and Cape Cod, parties, romances, dancing on the beach, cocktails in the morning that my same-age gay neighbor remembers was never what I had. I could have it, if I’d been different. It was available, if I hadn’t been too scared to partake. It might still be available, for all I know.

But my summer will be smaller than that, and that’s okay. I want to walk in the warm darkness most nights. I intend to get to the country a few times. I’ll make love when I can. But mostly I want to read poetry again the way I used to. I want my brain full of wandering lines until I can’t understand, am utterly flummoxed by, the fact that most people have no idea why it’s read.

That’s why I felt like a freak when I was young. Not because I was female and wanted to be a great writer. Because I found poetry, Greek myths and Robert Graves’ eccentric and esoteric book The White Goddess so much more interesting than punk rock or deconstructionism that the company of my peers generally left me speechless.

Age cures a lot. Now I’m happy to talk about tulips and politics, recipes for homemade ice cream and whatever it is you’ve been doing lately. Just don’t expect me to remember the bands of the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s. I was reading Baudelaire.

Her Hair

O fleece that down her nape rolls, plume on plume!

O curls! O scent of nonchalance and ease!

What ecstasy! To populate this room

With memories it harbours in its gloom,

I’d shake it like a banner on the breeze.

Hot Africa and languid Asia play

(An absent world, defunct, and far away)

Within that scented forest, dark and dim.

As other souls on waves of music swim,

Mine on its perfume sails, as on the spray.

I’ll journey there, where man and sap-filled tree

Swoon in hot light for hours. Be you my sea,

Strong tresses! Be the breakers and gales

That waft me. Your black river holds, for me,

A dream of masts and rowers, flames and sails.

A port, resounding there, my soul delivers

With long deep draughts of perfumes, scent, and clamour,

Where ships, that glide through gold and purple rivers,

Fling wide their vast arms to embrace the glamour

Of skies wherein the heat forever quivers.

I’ll plunge my head in it, half drunk with pleasure —

In this black ocean that engulfs her form.

My soul, caressed with wavelets there may measure

Infinite rocking in embalmed leisure,

Creative idleness that fears no storm!

Blue tresses, like a shadow-stretching tent,

You shed the blue of heavens round and far.

Along its downy fringes as I went

I reeled half-drunken to confuse the scent

Of oil of coconuts, with musk and tar.

My hand forever in your mane so dense,

Rubies and pearls and sapphires there will sow,

That you to my desire be never slow —

Oasis of my dreams, and gourd from whence

Deep-draughted wines of memory will flow.

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

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